@KevinR, that would be funny if it wasn’t literally why I haven’t replied to this thread yet.* (I went all-in on Things for a day and then switched back. I learned a few lessons though! It wasn’t a waste of time! It wasn’t!)
I have actually fallen more in love with DEVONthink after some extreme frustrations early on. As everyone says about it, it’s too powerful. The “just play with it” approach can make onboarding extremely difficult if you don’t ratchet up your use at the right pace.
I have to write more about my current use-cases, but here are the evolving use cases that have led me to love it in recent months. Messy post ahead:
Scaffolding use-cases for making the most of DEVONthink
1. Reliable, highly searchable files repository
iCloud’s tendency to poorly manage what documents I want to access offline made it untenable for maintaining access to files on iOS. So, the first use-case for DT was to be a dependable place to access anything I’m working on.
As a secondary benefit, I have a variety of Shortcuts that use template files and lists to drive some functionality. I use DEVONthink’s URL scheme to manage these so that I can update those templates from any device while keeping these “resource” files universally accessible.
Finally, I use DEVONthink’s indexed search all the time to find specific references I used years ago.
2. PDF annotation database and study tool.
I wrote my comprehensive exams for my PhD about a year ago. I wrote a script that took PDFs in DT and automatically generated flash cards in Anki from the highlights. Each flashcard had a direct link to the page of the PDF relevant to the question on the flash card. It was highly motivating, fun, and helped me pass.
3. RSS reader and read-it-later service
I had too much noise in my previous RSS approach. I also found it hard to keep up with all the articles coming up. Finally, I wanted to save and use many of the articles in my readings as PDFs.
So, I set up DEVONthink as my RSS reader and read-it-later service. It was quite involved to set up, but now Smart Rules and Smart Groups self-manage my RSS feeds. Each feed has granular rules to dictate how long items can stay for. Every time I check my feeds I have a very manageable amount of reading to do, and I can configure individual feeds or keywords or whatever to save anything really crucial before I even have to review it. (As a bonus, I save $70/year from Feedly subscriptions and $X/year from read-it-later services.)
Everything coming in is automatically converted to a nice, clean PDF and I can mark that up with all the conveniences of the PDF ecosystem.
4. PARA/CODE system
Although I don’t strictly adhere to Tiago Forte’s PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive) system, his thinking on knowledge workers’ management of their working materials has changed how I approach personal knowledge management and personal project management. In particular, I appreciate the sentiment that we need to be faster and more intentional about Capturing, Organizing, Distilling, and Expressing (hence, CODE) knowledge materials.
So, I have a script that takes in an OmniFocus project and creates a new folder for that project in Finder, indexes that to DEVONthink, and creates a link to both in the OmniFocus project. Likewise I am trying to stick links to files important to a project in a variety of useful places. The idea is to try to make project creation and completion a faster cycle, and to bring project management and material creation closer together by interlinking all of these things.
(@MitchWagner here’s your link on PARA, and see this post for some discussion about buying into Tiago’s stuff.)
5. Notes and annotations database
This is where I am now. Incidentally, one lesson I learned from my recent Things adventure is that I put a lot of non-actionable items in OmniFocus. As a result, probably half of the items in there were just noise. Most of these items were just thinking on potential projects or links to things I wanted to investigate. Instead of putting them in OmniFocus, I aim now to keep my task manager clean and lean. Instead, I’ll rely on PARA/CODE and put those non-actionable items in DEVONthink as a notes database. I plan on working in DT3 on my desktop a lot more to make this happen.
A few generic takeaways
- DEVONthink To Go (DTTG) is in an awful state. It works, for sure. But the lack of feature parity with DT3 is really ruinous these days. The DEVONtechnologies team say they’re working on big things with DTTG, so I’m really looking forward to whatever that may be.
- I use indexing, not importing**, for working files. I just find it easier to interact with files this way, and it makes the on-ramping a bit easier as you can continue doing things as you did them before DEVONthink while learning more about the tool.
- I have recently realized that my use of DEVONthink is a little like when I first learned Photoshop. It was an awful, difficult experience and I constantly produced junk results at first. I kept at it, though, and slowly learned how to use the tool more effectively and efficiently. Then it started to change my mental model of the work I was doing for the better.
- Some part of all of this might just be attributable to Stockholm syndrome thanks to DEVONthink’s steep purchase price and the amount of time I’ve put into it at this point.
* It is still very funny.
** Incidentally the original source for that indexing/importing post is dead, but I had a copy of it in DEVONthink from a few years ago.