How have folks been using Tiago Forte's PARA method with DEVONthink

I’m thinking of setting up four separate databases for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives but would really appreciate hearing if others are using it effectively and how. Let me add that I’m still in the early learning stage and have yet to discover DT’s many features

Why separate databases?
I would have gone with Labels

edit: or Tags
For example each of my projects is identified by a tag; as in Project-aaaaaaaa

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Perhaps because I’ve not yet used Labels and am not yet familiar with their benefits. I’ll check it out

Not sure I’d go with labels, but that is because I use them for things like “to do,” “for client review,” etc. I don’t know that labels would be efficacious for setting up PARA. I have a database for clients and all the PARA folders are in the same place, for ease of search because I don’t need to worry about having four separate dbs open. That said, I don’t strictly follow PARA either.


Thanks, Celsee, I appreciate your good thoughts about using or not using labels. It seems as if I need to do some more learnin’ yet the PARA method makes a lot of sense to me and I want to get off to a good clean start.

You can change the order and use APRA (Areas, Projects, Resources and Archives). Create one database for each big area (e,g., personal, work, etc). Then, organize your projects, resources and archive within each database. You can use both groups or tags. It depends on your preference.

I basically use the PARA system for high level folders – see screenshot.


That would be Devonthink Groups
Note; Devonthink supports manual assigned sequence (instead of number prefixes)


Thanks too to DTLow, Silva, and ChuckHass–all good and helpful thoughts.

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I pretty much do the same as @ChuckHaas. I don’t do all the stuff Forte says about dragging resources into projects and whatnot. Just use search to find what I need.

Replications very helpful for PARA. I have everything in Areas and Reference groups and replicate items into my actual project folder.

I’ve tried PARA – and various other fashionable systems at various times – and I’ve never really found any of them very much help. I think a lot depends on the kind of work/research/whatever you are doing. For me, I often can’t see neat separations between my various activities. There isn’t even a strong separation between work and home. These days I work as a psychologist-counsellor-psychotherapist so anything that passes in front of my eyes is potentially interesting or useful either to myself or to others in a personal or professional capacity.

These days, I have one large database, and instead of trying to group material together, I try to link things that are associated. I find this more flexible, and means I can make associations between items that might not initially seem to be connected. But then a lot of my work is to do with finding connections that are emotional rather than “rational”.

As I say, I think a lot depends on what you are doing. I don’t like to see my clients or their treatment as “projects”, and the ideas that come up during the work usually extend far beyond that particular case or scenario – including into my own life and activities. But I can see that for people who genuinely do have projects that they can pack away when they have finished, then PARA might work very well.

I tried having four PARA databases instead of four groups, and I couldn’t really see any advantage in it. But then I didn’t find the whole system that useful.


I tried PARA with four databases but it fell apart when it came to sync to DTTG as I didn’t want to sync everything but only what I needed. I had to split the information more into what I wanted to sync. For example; I only wanted to sync certain projects. If I did everything, I was always waiting for sync to finish (which got annoying when I forgot to sync and was in an area of poor mobile signal). It was quick once it wan’t syncing lots of stuff I didn’t need in DTTG.

Database ‘design’ needs to consider how you want to save and sync stuff.

Database ‘design’ needs to consider how you want to save and sync stuff.


And as I always say: sync is optional. Just having a database doesn’t mean you have to sync it. I have dozens of databases I’ve never synced. It would be absolutely dreadful if it was required or if the software decided to sync them for me. :flushed:

I look at DEVONthink To Go just like a wallet or briefcase. You carry what you need and perhaps some items with real potential to be needed. For example, unless you’re going to your accountant, there’s no good reason to carry your tax forms from five years ago :smiley:


And thanks also to rcramer, mbuntu, and saltlane for their excellent input. I obviously need to learn more about manually assigned sequencing, replicating, indexing, linking, etc. Every day using DT makes me realize how little I still know about this very potent program!

I did make the plunge, however, and have restructured my original five rather unrelated databases into just the four PARA databases. I decided on using separate databases to start with but will remain open to merging them into one down the road if that makes more sense. Of my original five databases I renamed one into Resources and streamlined it extensively. I moved folders around, deleted a fair amount of others, and deleted some too, ultimately emptying and deleting each of the remaining four databases. After taking this first step I must admit feeling a whole lot better already at using this much simplified and interrelated approach. I still have some tweaking to do and we’ll see how this whole new approach works out down the road yet at this point I’m optimistic that it will help greatly.

Unfortunately, I now have a syncing problem which I hope will be fairly easy to correct. I use the Bonjour method, have always synced all of my databases and want to continue syncing all of the new four, bearing in mind that none of the four are extra large as yet. When I brought all my stuff over from Evernote a while back I realized there was a whole lot I no longer needed to keep. I use my iMac as the “server” and sync with my MacBook and iPad/DTTG. Now, when I try to sync I get messages saying essentially that the four old databases I deleted are not available on the server. Of course. The renamed and re-arranged Resources database seems to sync correctly but on both my Macbook and iPad I still see the old four deleted databases, three of which now show as empty, and the other one reflecting many changes I made on my iMac (the last of the original databases I worked with) yet it is not entirely empty. Can anyone tell me how I can rectify this sync problem?

This is more or less how I use the PARA structure. I think about it in the following 2 ways, and that helps me decide where things go.

Most Frequent to Less Frequent Usage:

  • Projects: actively developed with a concrete deadline in mind. Once done they end up in Archives or Resources – if I need something for future reference.
  • Areas: Bills, Taxes, Exercises, Training… Things that never end and are a fabric of every day life.
  • Resources: Most things end up here. Stuff that is reference (GTD), and is used when the need arises but not on any specific scheduled or repeat.
  • Archives: usually completed Projects or Obsolete Areas, or things that I think I might need and unwilling to delete completely. If it stays here long enough untouched, it eventually gets deleted.

Most Personal to Most Generic.

  1. Projects: things I will rarely share with others in raw form – most personal thoughts, notes, development, ideas, etc. Once the project is done it either ends up in Areas if it becomes a routine, or it’s sanitized from private info and goes into Resources. If it’s done and will never be touched agian, it ends up in Archives.
  2. Areas: personal and private notes, finances, ideas, ongoing things, and information.
  3. Resources: things I am willing to share with others, no personal info, just useful tips, tools, notes, etc.

Thanks much, mzbarsk, for your good thoughts about using PARA. I set up mine along the same lines but the way you delineate between the different sections is very helpful!

Best not to hijack a thread.

See your posts at:

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Just a reminder that replicants are only available in a single database. (But if indexing you can use aliases).

Just one of those design considerations when deciding on single v multiple databases.

Syncing - read about shallow sync - here on the forums and in the manual.

It is key regardless of Bonjour or iCloud syncing.