How does DevonThink help you? How do you get the most from DT? A beginner still in doubt

That is one of the techniques I use. It is particularly useful when you are collating material for something you are writing. It would get unwieldy if you tried to have an index document called “Freud”, for example, which would get very long. In that case it is much better to use Smart Groups (see below).

I note you mention having forgotten useful things. We all do this. One way round this is to create Smart Groups. These are effectively searches that you define but stay constantly active. In other words, they constantly update as you add material to your database. Every time you open them, they have the latest information as well as the oldest. That way it is impossible to forget.

DEVONthink searches can be quite sophisticated, so I would advise you to learn about them. For example, you could set up a search that looks for the name “Freud” but only when it occurs near the name “Jung”. Well worth playing with.


Try reading this blog post:

It is the gateway to more sophisticated use of DT. Also have a look at the help and see some of the complex search terms, such as this:

term1 AFTER/n term2: term1 occurs n or less words after term2


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To mimic 3 pane view, I use the Standard View. In Preferences > General > Interface I have Unify Inboxes unchecked, and I use the Show Only Documents view. That gives me the exact same experience as the old 3PV, or as near to it as makes no difference and I’m not sure why they haven’t just said this is 3PV :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:. You’ll remember there was quite the campaign to get that back, and kudos to the DT team for reintroducing it.

I find widescreen doesn’t work when I’m sing the laptop, as the item list is too narrow to be useful - making it wider only reduces the utility of the View/Edit pane.

Thanks for the tip re using a master document for listing document links.

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Yes! It’s this advanced search capability that keeps me in DT. It’s also why I index my Obsidian folder (where I do all my linking, see post above about why to link) into DT, just so I can have this power search capability.

Even if that’s “all” you do, DT is vastly more capable, especially for large archives. (My main archive database is just short of 7 million words, and is modest by DT standards.) Start with tags, sure, then add auto-classify, See Also, fuzzy searches, search-based Smart Groups, cross-database searches…

DT and Scrivener are why I switched to a Mac. If I had to manage this amount of material with other tools I’d find a different line of work.



Plus with DT you do not have to set up some complex database schema in advance - and it is pretty easy to switch your database usage/design as your needs change without re-entering data.

So even if “all” you do now is basic note taking and document storage, the day may come when you have a use for automation or more complex tags/replicants or whatever else - and it’s easy to do that step by step as your use evolves.


The previous post describes exactly my path with DT. Start simple then relish the sheer flexibility and versatility as you develop with it. :grinning:



For me, Devonthink serves several different purposes, each of which I used a variety of different tools in the past.

1: Archived Correspondences
These are any letters, emails, calls notes, etc. that I send and receive not for my business(es). They include insurance documents, bank statements, utility bills, etc. The way this is set up is all files are placed in the Mac filesystem in ~/Documents/AC/ so it gets sync’d to iCloud and I have access to them on my other machines. The files and folders are then indexed in DT3.

This used to be in Evernote, but I realised that if someone got hold of my files (e.g. because of a hack), they would have access to my life.

2: Business Network CRM
Here I collect all of my correspondences with, and notes on, people I interact with for a business purpose. DT’s ability to easily archive emails is key. If I create an office document (Powerpoint, Excel etc) for that person, I keep it on my Mac’s file system and I index it in the correct group. Hence I never need to find the file again in Finder once I am looking at the right group in DT3.

Better still, I use DT3 to set reminders, for instance just before I have an upcoming meeting: an email is sent by DT3 to me with a link to the relevant document/group.

I used to use Highrise for this, and to some extent the notes section in Contacts and even Day One. (Yeah it was a mess.)

3: Business Projects
Like the CRM, the ability to just collect all sorts of different files (indexed or not) and tag them, is what makes this useful. It becomes the nexus for files and emails that are all over the place on my Mac(s). Linking is super useful, I can link projects to people in my CRM, and projects that are related to each other. Sometimes I create smart groups based on tags for a project and delete it once the project is done.

I used to use email, the Finder's tagging system and my memory for this. Things got lost all the time.

4: Research
I read research papers, and while I don’t write articles for peer-reviewed academic journals, I do write and publish articles (and of course, blog). Here DT3 serves the purpose of archiving academic articles, websites, newspaper articles etc. The power is in the tagging and linking. I not only tag material with subjects and keywords, but also the title of the article I have written/is working on. Much later I can retrace my steps when I’m trying to figure out how I got an idea.

DT3’s ability to make annotations and create a special annotations file with backlinks to the original document allows me to organise my notes. The Zettelkasten method does not really work for me (I have tried it, and for me Obsidian was a better tool for a slip box).

I used to use Evernote for note taking, and frankly, dropped PDFs all over the place and kept links to web articles as Safari Bookmarks. Everything was distributed all over the place and I relied on Spotlight. DT3 just brings everything together and I can look at connections thematically or through keywords, etc.

I generally manually format my citations, so there is no real need for a reference manager. (However, it’d be nice if I could extract and store a paper’s metadata and press a button to generate a bibTeX citation.)

5: eBooks
Related to the above is how I store my eBooks. I have many non-DRM technical eBooks (epubs and PDFs) bought over the years. They are in a monolithic database that just uses tags.

The power in DT3 is in search in this case. It allows me to find all instance of a search term in the books (at faster than spotlight speeds). DT3 can take you to each instance, highlighting the occurrence of the search term. It hence helps with my research.

And if I find a section useful, I can make an annotations file. Also I tag the book with the project name, or title of the article I am writing so I can quickly find it again.

I used to use Books to store my eBooks. Needless to say it’s not as useful as you can’t search inside a book without opening it first.

6: Commonplace Notes
My interests spans many subjects. As I read, I write notes in DT3 and link them to articles and books that I have collected in 4 & 5 above. This only really started when the developers introduced MathJax support. Also, if I need to quickly draw a sketch, I perform an “insert from iPad” and use the iPad to make my diagram.

I used to use all sorts of note takers for this – Evernote, Apple Notes, Notability, etc. Now it’s all in one place and not locked inside a database exportable only in JSON or HTML/PDF.

7: Writing Projects
Because I collect research material in DT3, I also start my manuscripts in DT3, first creating a project group and tag. That way, everything is together. Since I work on multiple things at any one time, it makes things more efficient when you come back to a project as everything is in one place.

I don’t necessarily use DT3’s interface to write with. I prefer iA Writer and MacVim depending on what I am writing. It is easy enough to get DT3 to open a document in the app of your choice (well, not all apps, but ones that can read and write files in the filesystem as opposed to using its own database, such as Bear & Scrivener).

I used to use Scrivener & Ulysses for research & writing, but the research I collected this way was stored specifically to the manuscript and hence was siloed away. With DT3, it’s the opposite. Research is a large tagged pool where I pull things out and link to projects.

8: Tech Journal
I keep a tech journal of all my machines: faults, installs, problems, solutions etc. Here, it’s the markdown editor and WikiLinks that shine. I can link instances where I have seen similar problems on other machines or in another time with [[ ]]. I can also link to websites where the issues/solutions are discussed. I depend on the “created date” to create a timeline to trace faults sometimes.

I used to use Evernote, then Day One for this.

9: Trading Journal
This is a hybrid of archived correspondence and research. Every trade/investment I make has a bunch of research, reasoning and talking to mentors and peers behind it. I take screenshots of charts for my notes, along with relevant news articles, SEC/other regulator filings etc. All these go into DT3 in a monolithic database that is tagged.

And when a trade is executed, I collect contract notes or screenshots of instructions. My analysis in spreadsheets are left on the filesystem and indexed as well.

Believe it or not I used to use Day One for this.


The strength of DT3 is that it enables me to collect information from various sources in various formats easily into data lakes. Files collected are not molested but instead a whole host of metadata are associated with the files. These metadata go beyond what the Finder can do.

While you could in theory use the Finder to just store a lake of data, and tag them using the Finder’s tagging system, you are losing out on a the ability to link documents together (e.g. by Wiki Linking, copying DT links) and you have to admit, organising the Finder’s tags sucks once you have more than a handful.

You would also lose out on many time-saving features such as renaming files from selected text and creating tags from hashtags in text. And you’d lose out on powerful automation and smart groups, to create temporary groupings of disparate data.

You would also miss the powerful search feature, where you can search across databases and within PDFs and epubs. You would also miss the “See Also” feature that shows you related files to the one you are looking at, through DT’s pattern recognition algorithms. This helps you find serendipitous links and connections.

DT3 is really a platfom that you can use to create solutions for your knowledge management problems. It is deep. Like any complex tool (e.g. emacs or a computer language), the more proficient you get at it, the more things you can use it for.

And it does not lock you into any proprietary format. You can get back the original files and dump them into the filesystem with ease (for files that have not been indexed).

Hope that helps!

Edit: removed a couple of typos.


I archive curated emails into Devonthink (Mac and iPad)
This is a direct export to Devonthink and no folder in the Mac filesystem

Why the need for an indexed folder in the Mac file system?

This is the only database that is entirely indexed and on iCloud for 2 reasons:

  1. Imagine I am in Japan on a business trip and have been through an earthquake and tsunami. My hotel has been washed away along with my laptop. At this point I can hop onto any computer, log into iCloud and get documents that I need to escape. (Or indeed on my iPhone).

  2. This is part of my “what happens after I am gone” strategy. (see also How to advise family about using DT after my demise - #44 by Luminary99_0). I am making it easy for my family to find things after I am gone. None of them have DT experience, but all of them know the Finder & spotlight!

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Good points
My backup process includes a weekly full export to the cloud using Devonthink’s File>Export > Files&Folders

I sympathise with the original poster, as it is not always obvious what DT can do that Finder cannot. As others have said, it provides opportunities for systematic tagging, and creating metadata categories that, as far as I know, Finder does not allow. I cannot demonstrate that the search is better but I can say that it generally works well.

But for me the key feature has been the options for manipulating PDF files. Most of my data started out as photos, each of a single page of a document. DT makes it easy (a) to OCR large numbers of files to create searchable PDFs; and (b) to work through these combining them into multi-page documents, which I can then index or load into a bibliographic database.

DT also has the advantage that it has many macros that make it possible to integrate DT databases with other apps, such as Bookends. This requires a bit of planning so you can go back and forth between DT and other apps. Had I known what I know now, I would be doing more note-taking in DT, and less in Bookends and other apps.

Another use is archiving old email. It is easy to download thousands of old emails from, eg Google mail, and drop them in a DT database, clearing space on Google and having all the old emails easily searchable.


I’m a DT3 user, so this is not to denigrate DT3. But for full-text searching, I find myself jumping to HoudahSpot much more frequently than DT3. It’s really fast, and can search anywhere, not just in my DT3 databases (and remains fast even when searching my entire research volume). It has lots of filtering capabilities for focusing searches.

DT3 of course does a lot more than that. But if search ends up being the most appealing extra capability for Ivan, HoudahSpot might be worth a try. And incidentally, it’s one of the partner apps in the SummerFest and WinterFest sales that DT is part of.

I believe HoudahSpot uses the full-text index built by Spotlight. If DT3’s indexing is better in some respect that’s helpful to Ivan, then HoudahSpot wouldn’t be a substitute. So far HoudahSpot hasn’t failed to find something I was looking for with a full-text search (except when I’ve accidentally left a filter turned on!).

HoudahSpot: HoudahSpot – Powerful File Search Tool for Mac

The last SummerFest (I suspect there will be a WinterFest in early 2022):

A lot of great suggestions here.

For me, it is a combination of flexibility / options for any configuration (dropbox sync, bonjour, icloud, indexing, etc.) , ability to handle any file type or size, encrypted syncing to iOS devices, reliability (over a decade now and this is by far the most reliable app I have used), wikilinks (you can make a personal wiki / zettelkasten!), its ability to grow with you, the excellent support…. OK. The list is endless.

As long as you are primarily working in an Apple environment, it is difficult to think of a workflow that wouldn’t benefit from it.

Back to the original post that mentioned Apple Notes (a wonderful “free” app), portability (I have only been able to extract data from it using DT—when you get up to several thousand notes, doing them one at a time is no longer feasible), being locked into iCloud, no note links, etc. are all issues with it. But, more importantly, it simply isn’t designed to handle much more than text and photos (in my experience). In my workflow (academia), I work with a dozen or more file types every day, and any app that can’t do that has to be pretty good at whatever niche it occupies to justify its use.

I can really relate to finding documents (including my own notes or scanned calculations!) that I’d totally forgotten existed (and reacting with a mix of surprise and embarrassment). DT3 has a feature to help with this that is totally different from search, and complements search. It’s the reminder feature. Select an item. Make sure the inspector pane is visible (click the Inspectors button on the right of the toolbar). Select the Annotations & Reminders inspector (the icon looks like a speech balloon in a comic strip). At the top, you can tell DT to remind you about the item at some chosen time in the future.

To really understand why this can be important, learn about research in cognitive science about spaced repetition and how it helps with long-term memory:

Those are just two entry points; there’s a large research literature on this. I have yet to really exploit this capability or DT3, but I have a hunch that it could become a crucial feature for me.


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Thank you all for your replies!
I’m at the end of the evaluation period of DT3, and this is how I’ve used it until now:

  1. A replacement of Feedly.
    I’ve subscribed to many RSS feeds that are linked to academic topics and papers.
    DT3 gives me all the features of the paid plan of Feedly, plus much more

  2. Documents storage

  3. Project Management.
    I have little requirements for this, since most of my projects are “solo” projects (a speech, a training, etc…).
    Also, I keep key emails from my collaborators.

  4. Working with PDFs and as replacement of the Highliner App.

What I’ll test DT3 for:

  1. CRM
    As for projects management, I have simple requirements: storing the main points of a conversation, recording the context for my contacts, I’d like to test how to plan future conversations and follow ups

  2. To curate content for ease my creation of the content for my articles, social media, etc…
    I’m already on the road, but still sperimenting.

In particular, I’m still in doubt how to use tags.

So am I, and I’ve been using them for around ten years. This blog post might help with some ideas:

I mainly find it useful as a document repository that takes Markdown, Microsoft Word, email, web page archives as PDFs, web bookmarks, and probably others I’m not thinking about. These are easily organized into groups, searched, navigated using Ctrl-Cmd-G and Ctrl-Cmd-O–for jumping to a particular group or note, respectively. Search is fast. I don’t use fuzzy search or “See Also”—hopefully, I will, as my databases bulk up and get more rich—I re-started my databases from scratch about seven weeks ago.

Unlike other document and knowledge management systems, DevonThink works with the filesystem, rather than its own proprietary database, so it’s more friendly to integrate with other applications.

I currently use Tags to record the status of documents: Rough notes → Working Notes → Draft → Latest Draft. This may evolve over time. I also use a tag to trigger a Smart Rule, though I am planning to change that to a flag.

I think I would benefit from @mbbntu 's indexing methods. Thanks!

Just wondering how you organize your project notes?
I’m guessing groups (folders)

In particular, I’m still in doubt how to use tags.

Example; I have a tag for each project (Project-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa)

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@aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa not sure but maybe you‘ve got a stalker :eyes: