Best Practice? Files stored by topic or application?

I have a quandary. I have a lot of Pages, Keynote and other files from presentations I’ve given or articles/communications I’ve written. I have them scattered. Some are under a topic, e.g, Work/Staff Presentations. Others are under the application folder, e.g., Pages/Work/Staff Presentations or Keynote/Work/Staff Presentations.

Do you keep your files in folders based on a work area or topic, etc., or do you keep them in the application folder? I want to consolidate all of my files one way or the other. I’m thinking it will be best to group all of these files by area of life (work/personal) then by topic rather than having them scattered across application folders.

What do you recommend?

I have a similar set up - and I use tags… That’s why I love Dropbox and Devonthink (and hate google drive) - I keep files in Dropbox and Index in devonthink … I roughly have the folders as you’ve described; I keep my lectures and learning materials as much as I can by subject and then I use Tags. When I am looking for something the tags bring the similar items from different folders together. I can teach the metric system in both introduction to chemistry and intro to bio… so they would be in different folders… Tags #MetricSystem finds them all :slight_smile:

Or were you asking something else and my answer was just obvious :slight_smile:


I want to make sure I’m understanding you. So in another words, if you were to create a slide deck in Keynote you would keep that Keynote file under a topic, not under the Keynote folder, correct?

Also, I have found that tags don’t work very well across iCloud between the Mac and mobile devices. Does that ever present a problem for you or do you primarily rely on your Mac and dropbox rather than iCloud?

I keep everything in DEVONthink with little indexed files and indexed only for a specific purpose, e.g. sharing with others.

I have minimum groups and put tags on most files. i used Smart groups to refine the presentation of an organised structure even though it is a “virtual” structure. When i start a new activity or project i usually make a group and the duplicate or replicate to seed resources into that group. Because the computer remembers how to open and work with files (from the extension) i do not bother storing files by tool.

usually i rely on search and not so much the structure to find stuff. strict structure makes sense for paper and file cabinets but we left that world a long time ago.

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I want to make sure I understand you, after you have prepared a presentation or written an article, you import, you usually do not index, those files into DEVONthink rather than keeping them in Finder. Is my understanding correct? If so, why have you chosen to import everything to DEVONthink rather than keeping files, for example Keynote and Pages, in the Finder? Assuming I understand you correctly, doesn’t this make it far more difficult to access those files on a mobile device?

I have moved in that direction too, I rely more and more on DEVONthink 3, Houdah Spot and search functions rather than filing. I find it far far better. I still have files but honestly I wonder sometimes if it is just out of a kind of habit.

I start Keynote and pages files inside DEVONthink and if needed to be worked on with my iphone or ipad and the file is synched, i just do it. Of course the appropriate app has to be on the iOS device.

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  • Folders/Directories containing documents by project/topic on my Mac
  • Some documents that are pertinent to several projects/topics, like a bibliography spreadsheet, live on iCloud (and are backed up specifically) but I use Aliases where appropriate
  • Archived no-longer-in-use-but-need-to-keep projects are archived offline and in iCloud
  • DEVONThink indexes most folders

To consolidate a view of, say, all Numbers files, create a Smart Group looking for all files with a “numbers” extension. Of course can do same in Finder, but i do all that “smart” stuff in the DEVONthink databases.


I am assuming this is in terms of iCloud? My practice currently for things specifically like Pages, Keynote, etc. There is a bit of duplication / triplication at the moment and I will explain that.

(if you are speaking about iCloud/iPad)
Level 1 - Active - Stays on my iDevice in the appropriate App - Reason: If I am giving a presentation or sermon, my mind goes to “Presentation” - Keynote - mostly likely the last thing I worked on

Level 2 - Moderate - Stays on my iDevice in the app folder for about 3 months or so (not a hard number) - Reason: I may make reference to it several times (for whatever the reason)

Level 3 - Inactive - File gets pulled from the iCloud App folder and put into my Synology where it’s stored according to the event/topic. Example below on my NAS for church speaking engagements, the top parent folder is called ‘Church’

Church (folder) > Parish Name (folder) > Event Name (folder) > keynote file, etc

This Level 3 structure is also replicated in DevonThink, so I am not as concerned about it in iCloud anymore. If it’s needed, I can pull from DT or NAS remotely.

If we are not talking about iCloud/iDevice at all. Then my process on the Mac is still similar. My Downloads Folder is broken down into categories (Audio, Disk Images, Documents, Images, Presentations, PDFs, Video) Hazel takes care of sorting everything automatically in there. If I am actively working on something, it sits on my Desktop, once I am done, it gets sent to Downloads. Then I clean out those individual folders and archive things to the NAS weekly.

There is lots of repetition in my process. It needs fixing and fine-tuning still.

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What is the benefit of Houdahspot over just searching in DEVONthink? (Or finder after DEVONthink adds to spotlight?)

I almost always store them by work area or topic - Not by app.

An exception is Logic Pro X Music would be stored in a Music / Logic folder due to the complex nature of music and related parts - audio - plugin etc.


I store them by project/topic, since any given project will likely have a variety of file types in it, and it feels too scattered (to me) to have them spread across app folders instead of all together in a single project file.


While I had everything for a long time within iCloud under the Applications folder, I started moving everything into DT, and place it into Groups based on the content.
For that reason, I have everything available very quick, if I just call up the Group related to a topic, and don’t need to run thru all Applications to find my files back, and to remember whether I created it, for example, within Numbers or Excel, or with Keynotes or PowerPoint, and so on.

Work area or topic. Too many different file formats that all relate to a singel event, presentation, issue, project etc.

I don’t separate work vs personal. I just separate the active project folders from my general “filing Cabinet”

I do have folders under my Active projects that are sorted to the top:
Screen Shot 2022-08-06 at 3.32.39 PM

Then under that are all the folders for the current active projects I am working on.

Here’s an example I’ve just done.

Our annual Wool Growers meeting was in July. We do a display table and as a sponsor also have a video that runs during breaks in the main meeting room.

These 2 folders were in my Active_Projects folder

Screen Shot 2022-08-06 at 3.37.54 PM

Then the contents of each one:

Screen Shot 2022-08-06 at 3.38.55 PM

and then Sheep-Wool_Growers_2022_Video at least most of it, I keep copies of all the media used in the folder. Am thinking of tagging the media in LightRoom with the project name but haven’t done it yet.

I may not remember what app I use to do something but I usually remember the subject or the event it was for.

PS I NEVER search for a file I alwys go to the location where I filed it. Search hardly ever works. if I have to search I’m in deep doodoo.


I don’t know really, I am pretty sure you could get the same results I do and better just using DEVONthink 3. I am just in the habit of using Houdah spot and know how to set up the more sophisticated searches there: I am catching up slowly on doing it in DEVONthink 3 as time goes on.
Houdahspot seems to catch everything though from all over the Mac, often files I can’t open and have no idea what they are.

+1 on most people’s descriptions here of organising files by project. On the very rare occasions I am interested in file types, e.g. show me all the Keynotes I’ve created the last six months, it’s pretty trivial to look for kinds/file types across Finder, or DT (create a smart group by file type which avoids the tagging chore).

I used to have a separation of work areas: all research in Devonthink, and all my teaching and admin in Finder. I’m now slowly moving things across to new DT databases where I expect everything will ultimately end up.

The exception is collaboration - so I have a few places where files need to be shared across a project team e.g. through the woeful Microsoft Teams. But that’s not really what you are asking about and another topic in its own right.

Good luck!


Thank you for the excellent example. As to doodo, I suspect that is something that you are rather accustome to, At least that was my experience on the farm – though we had beef cattle (Hereford and Black Angus) not sheep. :rofl:

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While there are a few principles on how the human brain works that are shared by everyone, from what I can tell information organization is not one of them. Personally I’ve tried both approaches mentioned, as well as using date stamps, file names, and tags to identify the contents of a file and keeping everything in a single folder.

Currently I’ve got nested folders organized by topic, but I’m never 100% satisfied that it’s the best organization method. What you need is a way to store a file where it will be out of the way when you don’t need it, but easily findable when you do. Software can help, but in the end you’ve got to choose a system that works in accordance with how you think. If you recall a topic by the last application you were in when you were thinking of it, then app-focused organization might be the best way forward. If you can remember the last time you were working on something, then maybe look at date-time stamps in the filenames and put them in a shallow hierarchy. Over time, and when done well, our computers become an external manifestation of our personal thought process.

I try to use all three approaches when saving a file now. Identify the file by what it contains in the file name, along with a date stamp. Tag the file with appropriate topics, and file it in a topic-appropriate place. Then I either browse when I need a file or use Spotlight. Honestly, the system is still evolving. I might spend my retirement fixing all the misfilings in it.

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Thanks, I’m glad I’m not the only one pondering the best filing system! I just moved all of my Keynote and Pages files under topics under two large areas, Work and Personal. I have hours of cleanup to do (hopefully it won’t take until retirement to get it done! :rofl:) but I’ll work on it progressively as I need files and create new ones.

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