What is your topic structure design?

Hi, I was a DevonThink Pro addict a few years ago but now based on the file name, tag, and dates, I use default Finder smart folder to smart index for files stored in respective iCloud app folders, e.g., .numbers in /Numbers.

As I’m doing this, I’m still curious if there is anyone who also has a small storage (256GB or less) MacBook but manage to use DevonThink as your default “Finder”. If you manage to do that, how exactly do you organize your files? Do you have a top level design like PARA or do you use smart group to create temporary index?

To begin with, I’m a university teacher, and I do a lot of spreadsheet and pdf stuff. So what I do is to create smart folders when i need and store them in a dedicated folder “Smart Folders”. I also have Alfred installed and use it to search for files.

After the release of Bear 2, I integrate it into my workflow and store permanent notes and reference notes into it. I have a daily dashboard to store my quick notes.

Have you considered purchasing an external USB drive and put you files there? It’s possible to get non-spinning solid state drives with a lot of space for prices less than in previous years.

If you do this, work through how you will make backups of that drive, and your Mac if you’ve not yet done that.


I used to do that, and at that time, I bought 2 Samsung T5 SSDs. The problem is you cannot always have them connected to your Mac, and whenever you forget to bring and connect them, you lose all the files you need on DevonThink.

Also, external SSDs have a large limit on their performance. They often slow down due to overheating. Adding to that is the fact that my M2 MacBook Air only has two USBC ports, and I have other accessories like USBC Headphone and an external monitor.

Well … best idea then is get a new Mac. Perhaps you can get a good trade-in price now, rather than wait and in future get a depreciated trade-in price.

Doing much fiddling around with files, sync services, etc. will be pretty much a kluge, IMHO.


I keep most of my data files on my Transcend drive, which is backed up to my time machine and a 2nd computer. It works fabulously, mounts flush with the laptop, and I forget it’s there.

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Before I started purchasing Macs with 1/2 TB disk size (selling one and half kidney and one lung), I used an external SSD (a T5 if I remember well). I will try to explain in English: I glued it with Velcro in one side of the MBP cover, then used a short USB cable to connect to the port, with enough cable length to allow open the lid and close it. Handicap: cannot put that in a bag without removing the cable, but it worked for me a couple of months until I sold my MBP Retina 2012 and buy the new one.


I found a photo. I had more or less this:

Problem here is if you have to disconnect the disk, before that you must fully close DT.


My “active” database is sized for syncing between my devices
and my “archive” database is stored on an external drive and accessed with my home Mac Mini

how exactly do you organize your files?

Organization structure is tag based, which transfers well between the two databases

Hi, DTLow,

I have been thinking about this “sized database” option. Do you use any smart rule and group to help you control the size?

No, nothing automated
Just manual monitoring to keep the database under 20GB

It’s possible to use an AppleScript to monitor the file size in Finder

I’m on the same boat here: 256Gb of internal storage.

I’ve created more than one database:

  • a database of the projects I’m working right now, that I need always open and ready on my MacBook → in my internal drive
  • other databases with not so urgent infos: external SSD. Because these infos are never urgent, I can afford extra time to connect the SSD if I need them

When I’ve completed a project, so that I can archive it, I move it to a database on the external SSD.

In the meanwhile I backup everything.

I do the same on my iPhone: the projects database is always downloaded in my phone, all the other databases are on demand.

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I have added 120GB SSD (on the side of the 256GB drive) just for the databases DEVONthink & FoxTrot. I have the small drive in the place of the CD: using a caddy.

I use DEVONthink not as a replacement of Finder. I use it to run projects. If I have a project I want to work on, I create a folder for the project files there and do it there.

Basically, I have a PARA system except the “areas”. The areas are stored in my head :wink:

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I use two T5 1TB drives velcro’d onto my M2 MacBook Pro - and can take them off to use on an older MacBook Pro when I need to use my CS5 (one-time purchase) graphic/photo apps. Works fine, but yes, remembering to bring the drives and cable when I go to meetings etc. is a bit of a drag.

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I have the documents for the currently most important activities/projects in one DB and my other DBs which are structured along areas of responsibility on an external T7 SSD with 2 TB. This way I can decide whether I want to take my T7 along or not. (I don’t want to glue it to the lid of my Mac, despite the fact that it is a great idea.)

A lot of people have those external drives with the USB cable hanging out. I suggest protecting the port by keeping the laptop on a tray.

I’ve upgraded the internal SDD on my mac to 1TB. But this is on a 2015 Mac, and now I’m stuck on Monterey. A Framework laptop doesn’t have this problem…

Having all data in one place has been extremely helpful. Before this, I always tended to have a 2 tier system of always accessible, and external storage, much like what other people are posting here. I can’t emphasize this enough: That was causing a lot of problems. This simple detail quickly makes everything become incredibly complicated.
Think about it. Every single action you do now has the cognitive load of “Where?”
Whether that’s saving a file, or retrieving a file.

You have to think about whether that file is something to add to Ephemeral storage or persistent storage, and you have to do this in practically everything you do on your computer.

I tried setting up systems to handle this. I had syncthing moving files around. Cloud storage etc. But none of this actually handled the cognitive load problem of WHERE?

Can DevonThink handle the problem of a 2 tier file storage system? Can anything?
This 2 tier layer is not something we want to handle manually in any way. The ideal solution would be completely transparent, handling everything for you. To the novice, iCloud gives the impression that it’s there to solve this problem, because it moves photos (for example) off local storage and brings them back when needed. But it’s not, because it’s actually just a sync service for different devices and not actually designed to save local storage, nor a backup solution on its own.

So, personally, I have a messy system of a massive download folder, naming files as verbosely as possible, keyword search, and inconsistently sometimes moving important files I want to keep in non-systematic way from my downloads folder to persistent storage.
This is a lot more efficient than browsing and filing, which I just can’t stand anymore. However, things get messy, which makes me feel a bit uneasy…

I try to avoid the “massive download folder” by working through my different inputs (Ideas, Mail, Paper-Mail, …) first thing in the morning having my external drive connected. Then I clean up my Inbox (With control-command-O you can easily generate reminders in OmniFocus.) moving things I have to deal with to the DB containing the information for the actual projects. (I use groups named according to the task at hand to structure this.) The other stuff (nice to know, have to keep) moves into the DBs on my external drive. Then I can disconnect my external drive for the rest of the day.
After finishing a project I move the respective group to one of the DBs on my external drive. This I can use for future reference or whatever may come up. This way I don’t get too confused with the question where things might be.
I admit it requires some discipline;-)