Update on file and notes organization apps...seeking advice

There have been a number of threads on this topic, but I was hoping to re-initiate this conversation to see what new options people might have found.

I am trying to really figure out my file and notes organization process. Right now, I have a fair amount of notes in Apple Notes; some are text, but many are either PDFs or text mixed with PDF or image data. A few have handwritten notes taken in my iPad with the Apple Pencil.

I also have a folder system sync’d to my desktop and laptop via SynologyDrive (which is my Dropbox/iCloud replacement).

Obviously all of my Apple Notes are available on iPhone and iPad; my SynologyDrive files are also available on iOS devices through their app as well.

The problem I face is that sometimes I am looking for a note, and it might be in Apple Notes; it might be a file in SynologyDrive. I often have to search both areas to find it, and it is not always clear where I might have put a given data element.

Everything cannot go into Apple Notes. A lot of what is in the shared folder is really not “notes” but files and projects I am working on, and storing all of those files in Notes isn’t really the best approach. On the other hand, creating every “note” as a text file (say in BBEdit, TextEdit, or whatever) and then saving it into a folder system is simply not as efficient as creating notes in Notes, and isn’t efficient at all on iOS.

What I really want is essentially a system whereby everything can be stored in one app, whether note, file, mixture of text and image/PDF/other file, and all of the associated files are then maintained in a shared folder which performs the sync process. I have not been able to find anything that works in this fashion.

I would prefer NOT to have the sync done via iCloud or Dropbox, although if there is no other choice I would use iCloud. Since I have more than 2 devices involved, Dropbox is not really a good option as I would have to pay for a plan that I otherwise don’t need, and then I would lose the advantage of using SynologyDrive as my sync mechanism - control and privacy for my data.

I know someone will probably suggest DevonThink, and while I do have a license for DT3 (I would need a third seat, but I guess that’s affordable), the only solution that would work would be to import everything into DT, and it doesn’t seem the best approach to work out of DT, opening spreadsheets from DT into Numbers, for example, rather than working out of the Finder. I experimented with the idea of an indexed folder approach, but the problem there is that when you create a new note in DT in an indexed folder in DT, the note is NOT written to the indexed folder, but rather to the DT database itself. I don’t want an approach in which a given folder in DT will contain things spread out in this manner; I am trying NOT to lose the Finder-based organization while adding a layer on top for note taking and organization.

I have looked into KeepIt and Notebooks. Notebooks doesn’t have as robust a sync mechanism - it seems that you either store your notebooks in Dropbox or you have to manually ensure sync, and must have Notebooks running all the time as a WebDAV server to serve the iOS devices. KeepIt seems to only sync if you store your data in iCloud.

I was wondering if anyone had a line into what I am looking for. I was hoping that NVUltra might work if I have it look at the entire SynologyDrive tree and access that NVUltra would work for text/markdown files, and Finder for everything else, so that might wind up being an option even though NVUltra does not itself handle embedded files terrible well, at least not at this point in the beta.

Thanks for any ideas and suggestions.

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A suggestion:
Curio might do what you want. You can essentially dump anything into it (stored in the project) or create aliases. It has projects which can have folders which have Idea Spaces - the spaces onto which you put your items. It doesn’t provide sync, so you’d need to use Synology Drive (Resilio, etc.).

and a few maybes:

If you’re more asset-centric than note-centric (in other words, lightweight notes), Ghostnote might work for you. Not sure if you can sync between devices.

If you’re more note-centric, maybe a markdown file with links to assets.

Finally, there is Hook, which lets you link files on the filesystem together. So you’d have, say, note.md linked to spreadsheet.xlsx. I think sync is in the works, perhaps @LucCogZest could comment.

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I had to solve this same problem: “that when you create a new note in DT in an indexed folder in DT, the note is NOT written to the indexed folder, but rather to the DT database itself”. My solution was to write an AppleScript service that creates a note when I press a key on the keyboard (F16), not via DT but purely through AppleScript, at a specified place in the Mac filesystem, which is also indexed in DT. I don’t “import” anything into DT; I only index.

I am not sure what the solution would be in iOS, which I don’t use. If you could figure out a way to automate note creation in iOS (with Shortcuts app, perhaps?), then you could use that in iOS and use AppleScript in macOS, doing essentially the same thing in each OS: automating the creation of a note in your preferred filesystem folder.

I would not use Curio as a file repository. The ability to find which files reside in what projects is minimal.


Why? What’s the advantage of your theoretical “system”? (It sounds more like a bottomless pit than a system.)

Spotlight can find everything on your computer – except what’s on Synology, perhaps.

What would it mean, anyway, to have an app that “stores” what’s on your Mac and what’s in your NAS?

What are you “syncing”?

Don’t take this as criticism – but are you losing things the way they stand now? There’s not necessarily going to be much benefit if you try to cram all your documents into one app or whatever.

Maybe step back and think about the use cases or scenarios you are trying to find a solution to.


Maybe the Mac is the solution :thinking:


Apart from the one detail about DEVONthink that I responded to above, this was essentially my first thought when I read the whole original post. “A system whereby everything can be stored together” sounds like an operating system.

Thanks for all the thoughts thus far.

@JohnAtl: I have heard and at one time looked into Curio, but I don’t think it fits what I need. I also do have Hook, but while I can see how it has its uses (I admit I really haven’t played with it to any extent, and I still don’t know quite how it will fit into my workflow) I don’t think it answers my question either. Ghostnote is interesting, but again its not really what I need. I have notes that are not necessarily attached to any file.

@nat-art: Thanks, it’s an intriguing suggestion, but I am reluctant to create a system in which I have added complexity to the note taking. On iOS I usually take short notes in Notes; for long notes (eg lecture notes) I tend to use Notability and then export the completed notes to PDF for filing in my filesystem.

@anon41602260: Thanks. Your response is very enlightening, as you have framed my question properly. The issue is clearly not in finding things. I don’t tag, for example, to any great extent except as as a way of automating filing with my own system adapted from Brett Terpstra’s “tagfiler” system. (I also have a way of quickly drilling down to tagged folders through my own scripts in Alfred which works extremely well for me in quickly getting to Finder windows may layers deep in the hierarchy that I am actively working with. It’s a workflow in Alfred that works extremely well for me.) I am also not losing things so that is not an issue.

I think the real thing that is bothering me is the cognitive dissonance of having some things in Notes and some in the file system rather than a unifying app that handles everything. That may just be the best way to handle this, however, and perhaps I am looking to “over-unify.”

The Synology is not an issue for search as all the files in SynologyDrive are stored on each computer just as for Dropbox. It is an issue on iOS, but I would not want everything to be stored on the iPad at all times anyway.

Having realized the real issue (thanks again) I think that at least for now I will stick to Notes and possibly NVUltra for my note taking (probably notes in that NVUltra is slated to be Mac-only and I do still benefit from being able to use the Apple Pencil on the iPad and embedding images and PDFs into some notes) and my file system.

To response to your question, what I “sync” is basically my entire working set of files and notes, just as others might store all of the active work in Dropbox. My desktop iMacPro has everything that I don’t need to use regularly both at home and away from home, eg all of my filed bills, invoices and other scans, tax documents, my entire photo library (as a semiprofessional photographer that is a huge chunk of my storage, but I only need on my laptop any images I am actively editing when not at home), and anything else that is more archival than active use. I keep all of my active work in SynologyDrive as I regularly move from home to away work, and often access files on iPad, laptop, or desktop. It has also proven helpful to keep some data there, as pulling up a document to find or verify information is often useful for me. Essentially I have adopted a plan of keeping much of my data sync’d in this fashion while identifying the subset (I call it a subset, but the actual size of the sync’d files is actually 18G, while I have nearly 2TB of archived files) that never or nearly never need to access when not at the desktop outside of the sync location.

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It sounds like your use case is much more demanding than mine, but I tend to use Apple Notes for information that I want to have close at hand, and folders on my Mac for that which does not fit that description. I don’t really try to articulate a definition for “close at hand”, and periodically I will move information between the two categories. I don’t use iCloud except for syncing, and Dropbox not at all; this means, for example, that I have only a very small subset of my photos on my phone, and those are synced manually (full disclosure: my wife takes the vast majority of the photos in our family). I don’t have a NAS either (like @JohnAtl mentioned in another thread, I can’t stand the noise).

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I’d look at ways to automate the notetaking so that notes go into your Indexed folder.

Personally I have no problem with DEVONThink because I have 2 totally separate database. All “Notes” go into one DT database that is entirely in DT itself. I use primarily plain text with a few rich text notes. All long form stuff is already automatically created in either Scrivener or Libre Office so they exist in my long form digital filing cabinet and I index that into DT. I have one DT database that is an index of notes that is in a GIT repository. For that one if I have to create a new note I create the text file, put it into GIT control, reindex and then I can edit it in DT as needed. It’s queries, I don’t add very many at once so not a big deal for me to do that.

Hook sync is available in beta (Hook 1.4) and faring well.

And for those who don’t know: Hook productivity connects items from various apps together. It can be used to link files, web pages, emails, tasks, personal information management items (EagleFiler, DEVONthink, Evernote, …), and lots of other stuff. It provides a Copy Link command that gets a link to the current item (e.g., an email or OmniFocus), which you can paste wherever you want (e.g., your todo list or notes) so that you can get back to the item. You can also “Hook” the copied link to something else (create a bidirectional link). There’s also a handy Reveal File in Finder that works across many apps, so that you can see where the currently open file is.


There are a lot of great suggestions here. I will hopefully add to the topic. Consider looking at how your system handles task management. For myself I break everything down to 3 categories: Active, Waiting for, & Reference. For example all reference items are located in Evernote. Out of site & out of mind. So if I’m looking for anything that is not an active project then it can only be in one place. It decreases my cognitive load when trying to find something. Currently most of my active stuff starts in Drafts then migrates as needed. Waiting for is Omnifocus. Might not be the best system but it is distinct enough to ensure I know where something is. Hope that helps

So, I’m a bit unsure here. You track active tasks in Drafts and move them to OmniFocus? Or did I get that wrong?

Sometimes. So many of my active projects start in Drafts. If I’m working on a paper for school it will live there until I move the final version to Word for submission. Almost everything starts here and a lot continue to live here until done.

If the task required me to wait for something ( I define that as talking to a person, go to a place i.e. Home Depot, or a specific date) those all go into Omnifocus.

If I’m not going to get to it and it’s a someday/maybe, I’ll send it to Evernote and add a reminder to re-evaluate in 3-6 months.

Drafts does everything I need it to do. I look at it frequently enough so nothing is lost. If I’m not actively working it, then it moves along to the correct silo. It helps me gain mental clarity to know what goes in which systems.

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