DEVONthink: Any better ways to turn data into information?

(I’ve submitted this to the DEVONthink forums already, but I thought I might get some helpful responses here as well.)

I’m looking for advice on how I might handle a common workflow in DEVONthink differently. One of the residual effects of being a DT user is the constant, nagging suspicion that I’m not using it nearly as productively as I could.

My main purpose for DT is to store documents (PDFs, web archives, images, etc.), most of which are accompanied by a text file that contains my commentary on those documents to give them context. I’m pretty sure this isn’t an unusual usage scenario, but I’ll give examples just in case:

  • My doctor hands me an after-visit summary. I scan that to PDF, put it in DT, then create a markdown file in which I write my own notes about the visit, and I include a link to the PDF in that text.

  • My furnace is not working properly. The repair person comes and cleans off a little sensor and shows me where that sensor is and how to clean it myself in the future. I scan the bill and take a photograph of the furnace that shows me where to locate the sensor, and I store those image files in DT. Then I create a markdown file in which I write the cleaning instructions, with links to the bill and the photo for my reference.

  • I’m doing research on an idea for a play. Over the course of several years (or more) I download newspaper articles and scholarly papers in PDF format, read them, and write a summary of what I learned from each. I’ve probably also done some annotation — primarily highlighting — in the longer PDFs. Same process: I write my notes about each article in a markdown file and include a link to the source PDF for reference.

The way I handle that now is to create topic-specific databases (health, home repair, playwriting), and in each of those databases, I create two groups:

  • A group to hold all the markdown files, each of which is named with the date of entry and a brief description of the topic (e.g., “2019-03-10 Furnace sensor cleaning instructions”)

  • A group to hold all of those supporting documents and images

The end result is that I have a collection of markdown landing pages for each topic or document.

This works for me. But so far my interactions with DT are more about putting data into it. I have limited experience getting information out of it. I can find those furnace instructions every October without any difficulty. But what about when I want to review my research on that play idea? Are there DT-specific techniques that I’m not aware of that would help me beyond simply re-reading all of my notes?

Re-reading all of my notes is a perfectly useful and reasonable way to process that data. That’s how I’ve always done it. And I don’t expect DT to have some magical button that I click so that it can explain the meaning of my play to me before I write it. But I’m trying to be aware of the limits of my own imagination now that I’ve turned to DT to help me store and organize this stuff. I’m interested in hearing about other ways of managing that information in DT that I haven’t considered and that might serve me better in the long term.

Thanks for your suggestions.


I don’t have an answer to your basic question, but can commiserate with the constant feeling that I am not using DT to its fullest :slight_smile:

I started using DT about 6+ months ago after being a long time Evernote user. I like Evernote but it just never felt right from a data organization point of view. I moved to DT and I really like it. I feel like I can organize things the way I want … I can group items or not, multiple levels, tags, etc.

But can I be using it better? Probably… I will watch to see what kind of response you get. Maybe I will learn something new :slight_smile: