Note taking in DEVONthink

Note taking in the DEVONthink apps in my opinion is weak.

Don’t get me wrong: “Weak” not as in “Boo-hoo, your software sucks, get me a refund!” Your software does not suck at all and I would strongly refuse a refund because DEVONthink Pro Office has become an indispensable part of my workflow. Love it, won’t give it back!

What I mean is: It is weak in comparison to all the really great features the DEVONthink apps have. Note taking does not match their awesomeness (yet).

The weirdest part of this is the fact that most of the features I’d like to see are already there, at least in a basic way. But they are scattered all over the program.

I’m finally getting specific:

I’d like to hammer down notes of any kind and length without distraction. And because of that I want to have them automatically named. And I want them to look exactly how I want them to look. At best I could write notes without having the main DEVONthink app running.

Let’s see what I could do:

  1. I run DEVONthink and hit cmd-n to write a note. The name of the note is highlighted, no right now typing away of my note, no auto-titling. I have to type the name of the note first which I might not even know exactly before I have written the note. Or I have to leave the name field and return later or use the context menu to create the name of the note from highlighted text. If I use OpenType typography settings like old style figures—which I do—I have to manually apply a style to my note as these settings cannot be saved in the default apple style.

  2. Like above, but this time I create a note based on a template I made. Improvement compared to 1: The paragraph style is correct when the note contains at least of an empty line formatted in named style. But when you create a note based on a template the cursor is not even in the name field of the note but nowhere. Extra click again.

  3. I use Tools/Write Note [note: I am using DEVONthink with a German UI so this is a re-translation that might differ from the real name of the menu item]. And now I have auto-titling, great! But sadly writing here is no fun. HUDs are looking cool but they are not cool for writing. White on black is only apt for very short texts. And we are talking about tiny white letters on black as there is no zoom here! Not to mention that the notes are saved only in the default style and not the one I’d like to see them in.

  4. Writing a note in the Sorter. Standalone app! But again HUD-like and no zoom. And although you can save Sorter notes as rtf formattings like italics, bold etc. do not work. DEVONthink is not running so there is no menu item the cmd-i short-cut is related to. [EDIT: Even if DEVONthink is running the formatting does not work.]

  5. Use of a third-party app. No way! I want to put my notes where they belong right now and I want to tag them. And of what third-party app are we talking? I don’t know any better note taking app. Remember: When I called DEVONthink’s note taking features weak I compared them to other features of DEVONthink and not to the competition.

So what would the perfect note taking feature look like?

– An option for auto-titling. Of course only as an option. I am fully aware of the fact that other users have other workflows.
– Advanced version: Customizable auto-titling. You could set it for the n first words or m first characters. Trim options like Only Alphanumericals. (My notes mainly belong to two categories: My own writings and excerpts. The latter start with quotation marks I would like to get stripped of the auto-title because when you sort the entries by alphabet this would screw up the correct order.)
– Super plus advanced version: Not only global customization of auto-titles but auto-title settings connected to groups or templates. Say, you have a group/template called “My diary”. Then the auto-title setting for that group/template could be “Entry [variable for ongoing number], [variable for date]”. (Yes, I know there are some decent journal apps out there. It is just an example.)
– Note taking in a normal text window (again maybe just as an option) and not a HUD-like window with all the benefits of such a window: Zoom, rich text formatting. The notes can be based on any template.
– At best all this would be also possible as a standalone. It would not make any sense to have two DEVONthink companion apps running, so this means all of this would become part of the note taking feature of the Sorter.

Thank you for following my lengthy lecture. Phew.

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Re-reading my former post I came to the conclusion that a) I should have placed it in the Requests & Suggestions sub-forum and b) that “weak” is definitely a too bold word. Please don’t take offence!

That’s nice, but I’d suggest in reality you’ll get where you want to go faster by checking out the enormous variety of Mac note-taking apps (some of which include just about every feature you mention) and intergrating that into your DT workflow.

Just my own observation, but I’ve never seen DEVONtech going deeply into the editing side of things with DEVONthink. The app is more about managing the content you have, rather than making new content. Notetaking is so very specific to the individual’s wants and needs, and even that changes from day to day.

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Great reply, Korm, just the thing I would have responded with. I’ve gone through many note taking apps (and integrated with DTPO) to find the perfect one. Unfortunately there are a number that complement each other, it all depends on the data and how you need to save it, search and view it, and analyze it. So I use several such apps depending on my needs. Evernote for general notes to quickly capture data and store in the cloud, Personal brain for jobs that require visual analysts, Tinderbox of you need automation in analysis to name a few.

Yes, I found out a long time ago that DT excels as a data repository manager, less so as a note taker.

If it helps… I have exactly the same “problem” and the one I find most useful is Notational Velocity. Change its preferences to save notes as RTF files, then index the folder (in my case ~/Dropbox/NV-Notes) within DevonThink. If there’s anything that needs to be permanently moved to within DT, then Duplicate works just fine.

Of all the notetaking apps, NV is the nimblest. (Spiral Bound Pro is also pretty good if you prefer to have multiple note panes open at once, but it doesn’t integrate as readily with DT.

Oh, and NV is Free As In Beer. Amazingly.

It took me awhile to figure out how to divide my workflow between DEVONthink and Tinderbox. Before I had purchased Tinderbox, I basically used DEVONthink has a replacement for Evernote but it never felt right as a note-taking software. When I bought Tinderbox, it wasn’t instantly apparent when I should be using one or the other.

Now that I have Tinderbox, I never take notes into DEVONthink. DEVONthink is a repository for PDFs, images, recipes, web sites, videos, etc., only. If it’s a note, it goes into Tinderbox. But, if that note has any collateral data, I copy the link of the item in question in DEVONthink and paste that into the URL attribute of a Tinderbox note. DEVONthink actually brings up an independent viewer rather than shifting me over to the DEVONthink application itself. Very convenient.

I do this a lot at work as I usually have a bunch of notes surrounding a project but I also have supporting material, especially PDFs.

It’s a hefty investment but worth every penny. Working this way between the two apps has produced quite the productive synergy.

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A keyboard shortcut on my system displays a two-field Keyboard Maestro dialog: Title & Body.

When I hit return, a Growl notification confirms that a TXT note has been added to the DT group which I use for collecting quick thoughts and preventing too much cognitive leakage.

(I personally prefer this to using a separate app and then transferring into DT …)
Add TXT note to a DEVONthink (2.32 KB)

Seeing as cognitive leakage happens pretty rapidly over here, this is a real breakthrough :laughing:

Same here :slight_smile:

A variant of the Keyboard Maestro 5 macro - should prompt for a target DT database and group if none has yet been specified.

Also provides a button for subsequently changing the destination group for notes.

(The original macro required a manual edit to the Applescript code).
Save TXT note to DEVONthink (3.16 KB)

Thanks for these macros, as well as your many others through the years.

The second one (group004) works fine through the point of searching all databases for a group, but it seems unable to actually put a note in a “second-level” group. That is, I have a “reference” database, which which there is a folder “Computer” and within that folder is a group “Acrobat”. If I push the “change DT group” button and search on Acrobat, the proper “path” to Acrobat shows up, but no note is created. If I select “computer” however, I do get a note. I don’t know enough about scripting to know whether the macro only works in “first-level” folders by design or if I’ve somehow done something wrong.
I did notice that the next time I run the macro, it is looking for Acrobat in “Reference” rather than looking for “Computer/Acrobat” in Reference (or Acrobat in “Reference/Copmuter”)

Thanks - well caught.

Fixed, I think, in 006 above.

(Which will also continue to display the dialog, with updated prompt, after you change the target folder.)

Fixed, indeed.
thank you, thank you, thank you.

Good. I’m glad it seems useful.

FWIW Ver 008 (above) displays the full path of the target group, rather than just the db name and the group name.