MacPowerUsers Podcast & Devonthink

One of the biggest tech/geek related podcasts on iTunes is Macpowerusers ( hosted by David Sparks and Katie Floyd. David is also a top selling author in the ibook shop most notably for this forum of ‘Paperless’ ( DT gets a brief mention on page 81 and 82 of the book.

A couple of times and most recently on episode 214, David has been threatening to do an entire episode just on Devonthink, The problem is that despite being an organisational sort of geek, he isnt a DT user. Like most people who quickly look at DT I am afraid he might make the inevitable and wrong ‘DT is a version of Evernote’ comparison and the result might be quite shallow :cry:

The purpose of this post is really to encourage people in this forum to send in some of their real life use cases, tips & tricks and general good stuff to the podcast, so it can be a real cracker of show and a great showcase for DT. There is form for submitting material and feedback to the show at

DT has had a few mentions by guests on the show before ( but it would be nice to see it given a full airing.


That’s a great suggestion, Frederiko. I agree that Evernote has its place, but comparing DEVONthink to Evernote merely because both allow document collections doesn’t do justice to DEVONthink.

May I suggest you and korm as participants in illustrating what DEVONthink can do. :laughing:

I’m very impressed by the approach taken by korm and you in developing an annotation script in the forum thread at Export an index of annotations to a numbers spreadsheet

The AppleScript dictionaries in DEVONthink Pro and Pro Office support the potential to automate many procedures and to extend features in DEVONthink such as the powerful tool created by that annotation script for collecting and analyzing information in a document collection. Your final version of the annotation script illustrates its use by an attorney to add notes and tags relevant to a case, a powerful tool for that purpose. As is, the script is general enough to serve a variety of purposes, and is of course customizable for other needs.

I am an attorney too so David’s request a few episodes ago caught my attention. I’ve been meaning to write something up on how I use DTP, so this morning I finally did it. Here is what I sent in, so others know if there are other points to be emphasized (and maybe someone will find this workflow description useful):

Hello Katie & David,

I heard you make a request during one of your prior episodes for individuals using DevonThink Pro. I operating a solo Mac-based law office and DTP is at the center of my workflow. Here is a quick run-down of what I use and how DTP fits in:

First, all of my fax and voicemail come in via e-mail. I use a Voicemail transcription service, so those can be indexed by DTP.

I use Mail rules to (1) forward e-mails into DTP Inbox (2) mark as read (3) archive the e-mail. This applies to sending and receiving.

I have one database in DTP for my law office: Client Files. This is organized with the following groups (this is what DTP calls folders – “groups”):

Active Files > Client Name > Matter > [various folders based on case type]
Closed Files > Client Name > Matter > [various folders based on case type]
Leads > Lead Name

Everything goes into my DTP inbox. EVERYTHING. Email, voicemail, faxes, scanned documents, notes etc.

At least once per day I walk through my inbox and organize. The “See Also & Classify” features of DTP allows me to auto-classify about 75% of my inbox material straight into the right client’s group (e.g. an email from John Smith goes straight to Active Files > Smith, John > Smith v. Jones > Correspondence). As I’m doing this I’m reminded to bill time, reply quickly to e-mails, or create a task for follow-up.

I use OmniFocus for tasks. As I go through my inbox, I type ⌘⌥⌃C to copy a hyperlink to the DTP object; I then type ⌘-Shift SPACE to create an OmniFocus task, then ⌘’ to paste in the hyperlink as a note. ^C then auto-classifies the item in DTP to the correct group.

As I’m going through my OmniFocus tasks, I can click that hyperlink to bring up the DTP email, note, document, etc – this is true even if the item is moved in DTP (since it’s not actually moved, just its reference is changed in the DTP database).

This is a nice GTD way of processing my inbox separate from reviewing, prioritizing, and taking action on my tasks.

Bringing up a document in DTP, I can easily trigger “Open in External Editor” – PDF’s in Acrobat, e-mail in Mail, web sites in Safari etc. I can preview almost everything in DTP, but all the heavy lifting is done seamlessly in the native application associated with the file type.

DTP allows me to do a full indexed search across all groups for any information VERY quickly. My database is currently just over 30 GB and searches for conflict-of-interest checks across the whole thing take only a few milliseconds.

I can search 7 years of law practice – every document, e-mail, fax, voicemail – in milliseconds!

Because all of my email is imported into DTP, I purge my IMAP email server every 2 or 3 months. I use Time Machine for local backups and encrypt off-site backups with Crashplan.

I don’t use tags as often as I probably should, but I try to tag certain pleadings with the relevant causes of action. Very handy if I need to find an old complaint or affirmative defense to reuse! I just search by tag on “slander of title” or “breach of contract” and I have the old case whose name I long ago forgot…

I have a second database called News & Research. In this database I have RSS feeds of various news sources, including legal news. I also have groups for different topics (e.g. Real Property, Business, Estate Planning, etc.). I dump cases, news articles, and other interesting bits of research into this database for future reference.

Highlights of why I use it:

• Very fast and accurate search;
• Very dynamic structures possible with groups and tags.
• Single inbox method prevents things from “falling through the cracks”
• Fits into a GTD styled workflow;
• Good auto-classification features save me tons of time;
• Works great with ScanSnap (OCR will queue up and not block more scans)
• Great AppleScript support and tight integration with OS X.

• UI is useable, but could use an update.
• Collaboration features need improvement – sync can be problematic, mobile app is limited. Works great in my limited use case (true solo, no staff).
• Requires some unintuitive workflow adjustments. This is partly because you’re dealing with an indexed databases rather than a file system, but also because the UI interaction differs in minor ways from other apps like Finder.
• Auto-classification and manual movement of items could be easier and more accurate (for example, ignores sender, subject and other email fields). Hard to criticize though since DTP is the only product I’m aware of that even has an AI classification feature!
• Mail rules can be wonky, making it hard to get stuff into DTP (this is Mail’s fault, not DTP).

Feel free to contact with questions. Hope this helps!

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Can I just say that this is a fantastic workflow! I’ve clipped it into my own DevonThink database, and am going to try adopting something very similar. I like your quick keyboard shortcuts for integrating DTP with OmniFocus.

I’ve been a listener of MPU since Episode 1, and I keep waiting for DTP to be given some reasonable coverage, but I think that it’s just too complicated for an audio podcast to explain. The fact that neither of the hosts use it - and are so enamoured with Evernote - also means it doesn’t stand much of a chance.

So, anyway, thanks for sharing your use case here. I really appreciate it!

No problem at all. It is not perfect - I welcome any suggestions! :slight_smile:

Well I can save you a few keystrokes! Rather than copying the item link, invoking the omnifocus quick entry pane, and then pasting the link into its note field, you can do all this with just one keystroke. Just use the Add to Omnifocus item in the Script menu, and create a keyboard shortcut for this in System Preferences.

I had forgotten all about those scripts. Very helpful!