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Adventures in Devonthink or “Where do you put it all?”

I remember my first latte. A pretty remarkable feat given the proliferation of espresso stands. But I lived in King County 20 years ago when Starbucks was just getting its start in downtown Seattle. I was still going to school at Northwest College in Kirkland, studying to be a pastor. Newly married, living in the married student housing and with newborn baby Alexis in the house, I would sometimes escape downtown to walk through the art gallery. I soon discovered the new coffee shop across the parking lot. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker… I got most of my caffeine from Mountain Dew. So I tried one of these newfangled lattes and was pleasantly surprised. I found the coffee shop a stimulating location so I began taking a small notebook with me and would journal ideas I had about God and ministry.

This was my first latte. But it was also my first notebook. I’ve been writing ever since. When I moved back to Ephrata and started planting a new church, I graduated to legal pads and three ring binders. I researched and wrote, and brainstormed and wrote some more. When the church closed five years later, I had five 3-inch 3 ring binders full of ideas. I still have them.

About 4 years ago I graduated to a program called Devonthink. It is one of many digital junk drawer applications for the Mac. I’ve written about it here and thought it was time for an update. Here are some things that I’ve changed about how I work with it.

I no longer use Devonthink as my all-in-one repository of all things digital. Instead, I use it to archive either my own writing or articles that I have researched. There are tools in Devon to suck in your contents from your address book, email, bookmarks and pretty much any digital scrap that you have lying around your computer. At first I faithfully imported all this stuff. But when I went through and organized my database today this no longer made sense.

For starters, I had imported my bookmarks in awhile ago. And had ferreted away various links in groups. As I was going through, this didn’t make sense to me anymore. When I am bookmarking a page, I am on the internet. And I bookmark in Keeping links in two places made no sense because it requires constant gardening to keep both places synchronized. And I discovered from the Devon Technologies forum that links don’t impact the artificial intelligence used for finding similar results via “see also.”

So, new procedure #1. I deleted all links from my groups. But I still wanted to be able to access them when I was in that group. So in their place I created a single link to my tag for that group. For example, instead of a list of links in my lifehacks group, I now have a single link to Much cleaner, and no syncing required.

Devonthink first came out when Mac was running Panther. This was pre-Spotlight. So one of DT’s claims to fame was its ability to search inside documents, not just the document name. This was a wonder at the time but then along came Tiger and Spotlight and suddenly we were able to do this to every document on our computer, with the exception, unfortunately, of what was in DT’s database. At the time, this made it advantageous to move everything you wanted searchable into DT. So I dutifully sucked in all my mail from certain people. But as I went through my database, I found that I had a bunch of stupid correspondence that really wasn’t worth keeping. And like bookmarks it is redundant to keep the data in two different places. With Spotlight I can no put my fingers on any pertinent email I need to.

Another area that got purged was my archive of websites. When I first got Devonthink, I was all gee-golly-whiz! about this thing that could suck in entire websites. I was big into the magazine Credenda Agenda at the time, so I thought “wouldn’t it be great to have every issue searchable in my database? So I sucked the whole website in. Pretty cool. Except it made my search results utterly useless. I was constantly getting hits to articles that really had nothing to do with what I was looking for.

So procedure number #2 was to purge this entire archive. Now I am going to be much more selective about what I archive.

The bottom line purpose of this post that I want to end with is that I no longer believe it is useful to import everything into Devonthink. It requires too much gardening. When I need a contact, I’m going to go to address book, not DT. Mail stays in Links in What _does_ go into devonthink is all my writing. I use the personal wiki program Voodoopad for brainstorming, journler as my Getting Things Done project and task management system, and Bean or Google Docs for writing. Every program has the ability to export as either html or .doc so periodically I export what I want to keep and import it into its appropriate group in my database. This has cleaned up my search results and has also made “see also” far more useful. Hope you find this useful.

Published in Devonthink

One Comment

  1. Daren


    Wow! My head hurts! I just wanted you to know that I DO keep up on your blogs on a semi-regular basis (for whatever that’s worth to you), but I’ve got to ask, are there people out there who understand what you’ve written in this one? Wow! There must be a TON of stuff that I just don’t know about…

    I’m impressed, Bro! 🙂

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