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A User's Journey into DEVONthink: On the Go

November 24, 2016 — Eric Böhnisch-Volkmann

I wanted to make this post very much an ‘examples of use’ text rather than just listing the features in the app or talking about the sync — again there is a comprehensive manual and many associated articles that do that. I also wanted to preface it with the fact that for me, the main usage for the app is capturing information whilst away from my Mac, and recalling pieces of information that just won’t wait.

As I stated before I’m an avid processor of the global inbox almost every night. I’m fairly certain I’m not using the iOS app to its full potential, and like my DEVONthink Pro Office (DTPO) usage this will likely develop as I go along. I fulfil three main functions with the app:

1. Capture

Images: This is one area where the combination of DEVONthink To Go (DTTG2), DTPO, and a highly portable camera is a huge winner, and fulfils functions that my Mac actually can’t. I take pictures of anything from slide images in lectures, adverts in shop windows (yes, remember those? They still exist!), snaps of album covers, snippets of text, a watch, a car, a house — anything I might want to look up or come back to. Take the image, drop it in the global inbox, process later.

Note from the editor: A third-party app like Readdle’s Scanner Pro lets you even ‘scan’ documents, deskew and otherwise post-process them, and save them as PDF including searchable text to DTTG2.

Web clippings, links and PDFs: In the same way as when I’m using my Mac, anything of interest seen while surfing the web can be sent in reader view PDF format to the DEVONthink global inbox. The advantage of having this on my iPhone also is I don’t have to walk over to my desk just to capture that interesting page I saw while lazing in bed, on the train, or otherwise not really wanting to bust out the laptop.

Note: This capture usage mirrors the Getting Things Done workflow. Get it captured as soon as you see it, then you can forget about it and process it later. And if you already know that what you are capturing has a task associated with it, there is a handy ‘Add to Omnifocus’ button in the DTTG2 share sheet. Hit that and you get a task in your OmniFocus inbox, with the same title and a hyperlink back to the DT document in the task’s ‘notes’ section.

2. Review

PDF reading: I’m a heavy annotator of PDFs in DTPO, and whilst this doesn’t translate to DTTG2 in a significant way for me, I do do a reasonable amount of reading of PDFs on the iPhone. This tends to be non-academic things I am interested in, research articles, manuals, tutorials, discussions on books or current affairs, etc. I treat these in the same way as my academic articles. Yes, I can save my favourite ‘reader view’ PDF straight to the global inbox from here too (read about the print-to-PDF feature of iOS here).

Flashcards: I touched on these in the student article I wrote here. For any specific subject or definition that I think will be important, I can run a search in DEVONthink and create a rich text flashcard to save for later use. Creating the cards is fiddly to accomplish in DTTG2, but actually the point here is to use the iPhone to pull quick revision/information sessions on the hop. If I need a quick reference in an assignment or lecture, if I’m on my way to an exam or a presentation etc., then I can use these cards to place everything I know about a subject at my fingertips, which is vital in a number of situations - often so I can keep up with what is being discussed! The cards act like prepared, detailed searches that don’t need to be run.

3. Storage control

I did say I wasn’t going to list features, but there are a couple I find indispensible: Granularity (on sync) and Purging. Granuarity gives you control over which documents are automatically downloaded/synced, and which just have their metadata downloaded/synced. Purging removes selected files again but crucially preserves metadata, leaving a searchable ‘ghost’ which can also be moved or deleted. If you got the concept of indexing over importing earlier, then this is very similar, and it’s easy to see how this can be tailored to usage to save precious iOS space.

For example on university weeks, I’m going to download all my MSc database and just keep metadata on everything else. If I have a conference I’ll switch this to my ‘Research’ database. More than once I’ve been chatting to a colleague over lunch or dinner and thought, yes, I have a paper on that — with DTTG2 on hand I can check that what I have is relevant, downlowad it if I need to, and share it with a few short keystrokes. Gone is the ‘Yes, I can send that to you when I am in front of my Mac’ conversation’, and more importantly I save time and effort in not having to remember and do it later!

Next in this short series: Deeper usage.