Looking for advice on initial setup

I have bought DevonThink Pro Office and am planning to order a SnapScan today. I am looking for some advice on how to get things setup initially so that I don’t regret decisions I’ve made down the road and end up stuck with a bad setup.

My primary workstation is a Macbook Pro. I work primarily from my office so am not currently traveling a great deal. I currently keep most of my important files directly on my MBP in a folder structure, and I keep my email archive in Mac Mail. I have a ReadyNAS NV+ that I use for image/video/backup… things which I don’t intend to put into DT. I used to keep my files on it, but decided to move them to the MBP and I have two backups of them to external devices (cloned drive and a Time Capsule).

I am looking to put information for three primary contexts into DT.

Home - I have a large file cabinet of receipts and historical documents. I’d like to whittle that down. I also have years of files in boxes in the attic and if I start putting them into DT, then I assume I could archive them as they hit say seven years old and not have to deal with all these paper files.

Day Job - I work in an information job. I have a lot of project files which are not really that bad stored in a folder structure today… but I can’t really search them well. I plan to do a lot of research related work this year in several projects, and can see some benefit from starting to put this stuff in DT. My email for the Day Job is Lotus Notes, so I’m not sure DT would work well for that.

Small Biz - I have a small biz that gets into a number of things… websites, photography, etc. I can see a couple of uses for DT with this. First, is the same as my day job in being able to file documents in a more searchable manner. A lot of my email comes in for this purpose and I may want to start selecting some of it and pushing it to DT to have a smaller more focussed and complete archive of information on different projects. Another use is that I write news and articles for some websites and I may be able to use DT to help with that.

So now the questions on setup…

  1. How many databases? Should I create three separate databases in DT for these three areas, or just one big one. There isn’t a lot of overlap in the info that I can see. But then I’d have a section of bills and receipts in each of them. If I create multiple databases, is there any problem in day to day use with that? Can I have all three (or more) of them open at the same time? What happens when I scan things in… can I easily target different databases if they are all open>

  2. Where to put the databases? I’m thinking about keeping all my DT databases on my NAS (network storage). It is on a Gigabit network and is a high performing NAS. Would I be having big lags in performance by doing this? Is it fairly easy to relocate the database down the road if I start on my MBP and then decide I want to migrate it to the NAS later? Can I grab a copy of a database if say I need to work on a travel assignment for a couple of months?

  3. How to organize the database(s)? I think I have a pretty good handle on hierarchy for things like projects and work areas. I’m a little unsure on archiving bills/receipts/etc. For my home, my small biz, and my day job… I will have bills and receipts. These obviously have a logical hierarchy (electric, gas, cable, insurance, etc.). But a real keep workflow capability is for me to be able to take all of them for a single year and deal with them together. I am going through preparing for tax time and have to go through all my paper files and group my bills/receipts for 2008 so that I can total them and get ready for taxes. Is there a way to store things in DT in a hierarchy by topic (gas, electric, etc.), but then grab them by year also so that I could review them and even be able to archive them off to a DVD and purge them from the main database? I don’t want to end up having as much work in DT to end a year as I do today in my paper files… otherwise there is no point to this.

Thanks for any advice or tips you can give to help me get going.

You’re never stuck with a bad solution. Your information is yours. You’re never more than an export and import away.

And really, man, it’s impossible to plan the “right” initial setup. Take it from me. You’re just going to have to be flexible for a while and evolve and figure things out as you go along.

But really:

  1. DTP 2 handles multiple databases very well.

Yeah, throw it on the NAS, and just copy it over if you have problems. DTP’s very good with moving databases around, so long as you don’t do it while they’re open.

Dude, #3 is all about just figuring it out as you go.

I’m in the same boat as convergent. I understand the answer as being correct, but it’s not helpful to a very new beginner like me.

My experience has been that with a new application such as DevonThink I need a template because the ‘just go with the flow’ answer works only when you have some grasp of the flow. Having a template lets me have some form within which to learn the flow. Using a template lets me learn what works for me and what doesn’t, where ‘just use it’ leaves me totally adrift, with no concepts and no idea where to start.

Of course, it may be that if I just don’t get it from the beginning, DevonThink isn’t the right choice for me. Is that the case?

If you are using DT Pro 2 or DT Pro Office 2, there are example databases (in the version 1.x format, so they will need to be opened and converted).

Check out the example databases, tutorials and videos in the DEVONacademy pages, starting at http://www.devon-technologies.com/support/academy/index.html.

Download the User Documentation PDF for your DEVONthink application. There’s a link to documentation on the Download page. There are some useful tips about starting out.

Some databases force the prior creation of a template, a strict design of the database, such as FileMaker. One really cannot start entering data into such a database until a template has been created. DEVONthink doesn’t require that.

Do you have collections of files, probably of different filetypes, that are interesting and useful to you? Start an experimental DEVONthink database by importing them. If you are using DT Pro or DT Pro Office, you can create as many databases as you wish, and they can be deleted without endangering the content you placed into them, as Import copies your files from the Finder into the database.

DEVONthink is a very deep and flexible document management/information mining tool. Don’t expect to learn everything at once. Instead, start by creating a trial database. Learn about importing and exporting content. Play with searches (take a look at the documentation). Play with classification of content into groups, in any way you wish. Play with capture of new content from the Web.

Learn about the backup features. That’s not important for your initial experiments, but will become important when you are really using and depending on databases.

The attitude of playing and experimenting is appropriate when starting out. You are not at risk. You don’t have to read through the complete documentation three times before trying anything. Try to avoid too many preconceived notions; rather than trying to force the database to do something, see what it can do for you.

There is a little more direct advice regarding your question #1 “How many databases?” in the Help for the 2.0 Beta. (I’m using the Pro version.) It is in the “Building Your Database” topic. You should definitely check it out, but in summary, (and people please correct me if I get this wrong, I am still very new to DT myself) the general advice is to have several, topical databases instead of one “everything” database. In other words, have the content of each database be centered around one general topic of information. This is primarily because the AI will work way better if it is not confused with large sets of information that have no contextual relationship with each other. Additionally, it also tends to result in smaller databases, which obviously improves performance.

The documentation also implies that you will probably end up with one database that is for odds and ends, lots of different sets of information that aren’t big enough to warrant having their own, individual database.