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DEVONthink: Integrated Information Manager

The latest release of DEVONthink [download] seems to scratch several itches I’ve been having lately. Specifically, I confess that I’ve been dashing (very unproductively) between a mountain of txt files, Mail.app, Entourage, two Moleskines, and an Instiki wiki trying to fashion the best solution for managing an amorphous collection of work, web, writing, and extracurricular projects. No single solution has been just what I needed, and, frankly, it’s been debilitating to try and maintain it all (Danny calls me the “patient zero” of productivity fads). It’s like tending rabbits, I tell you. While I know DEVONthink won’t solve all my problems, it looks very promising at corralling some of my thornier information management issues.

So far, I love the way that DEVONthink imports and manages stuff as well as how it draws informal but often rich semantic connections between documents. It has taken everything I've thrown at it so far (incl. Word files, photos, and Quicktime movies), and it still feels fast and stable (knock wood). I’m still getting my head around all the features and am still trying to find the best way to keep a database maintainable and well-organized, but I’m definitely intrigued.

I might also add—coming as this does on the heels of my reviewing two products that many of you found too costly—that DEVONthink rings up at just US$40 (further discounted for students). Given the power behind this app and the flexibility of things you can build with it, I find that gobsmackingly affordable.

So, DEVONthink nerds: if it suits you, consider sharing your thoughts on how to put the app to best use. I’m looking at you and your buddies here, Mr. Fred Reynolds. I know you guys have some pretty hot-rodded setups, and I’d love to hear how you do it. Ditto for good links to tutorials and tips on other sites. Also you can trackback this entry with posts about personal setups and novel uses you've found.

Josh Rothman's picture

I registered DT ages ago...

I registered DT ages ago because it is a great product. However, I've found that it's ultimately overkill for what I needed--even though it is über-cool.

The main reason you throw stuff into DT is so you can index it, organize it, and find relatedness--the main feature of the app is the little drawer that shows you similar files. Most of the time, you just don't need this unless you have THOUSANDS of files, as you would if you were, say, researching a dissertation. But even then, DT gets better the more you subdivide and organize those files into subfolders, so there's always a large amount of effort involved in organization in order to reap the benefits of the semantic classification. I had to ask myself whether it was worth all that effort (syncing, importing, exporting, capturing, organizing) to get at those connections, most of which I knew about or could have figured out anyway. It wasn't. There's also the fact that learning to make connections, see similarities, etc., is a skill unto itself that's worth cultivating.

So to my mind, from a GTD perspective, tools like DT are actually -not- what you want to be using b/c they a) require constant tinkering b) encourage an over-stuffed filing system and c) replace decision-making (what do I need this for? is it actionable? etc.) with deferral (I'll just let DT index it...)

I've come to the same opinion about wikis, which I used to spend lots of time maintaining and adjusting. Ultimately I spent more time fiddling with the wiki, throwing stuff into it, and paging through it than I did doing my main job, which is reading and writing. YMMV, but in the end I've settled on plain old index cards, just like in high school. This isn't a knock on DT, which is a great app and for which I've put down my $40; it's more a response to the endless search for the 'all-in-one' app that does it all, etc. etc., especially in the context of GTD, which is all about actually looking at your data rather than relying on search to look at it for you.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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