DEVONthink Pro Office Part 3 - My Database Setup

There are many schools of thought with regards to how you should set up your databases within DEVONthink Pro Office. Some people like to have multiple databases that cover a lot of different projects, or areas of their life. Other people like to be a lot more minimalist and only have one or two databases, with everything in their lives contained within. For example,I know one person who has a separate database for different areas of psychology that he is currently studying. Within these, he holds thousands upon thousands of reference articles. I know someone else who runs six different companies, keeps a database for each one, as well as a seventh for separating documents, photos and web references related to his home and family. 

How many databases you have is solely down to your personal preference and how you work most efficiently. Having separate databases has the advantage of being able to split where all of your information is stored. For example, if you know that space is going to be a limiting factor (this is becoming less and less likely in this day and age) you may wish to keep some databases backing up to your Dropbox account and the remainder to another cloud storage account, or to your local NAS device. You can also stagger the frequency that these databases synchronise their contents. It may be that if you have a database that only gets updated with information a couple of times a day, or week, then syncing it frequently is a waste of resources, whereas there may be a more mission critical database that needs syncing every quarter of an hour. It’s all down to your individual use-case and this post will hopefully help advise you as to the approach you may wish to take as well as go into detail about how MY system works and WHY it works for me. You may resonate with that, you may not!

So how does my setup work? Let’s take a look. 

As you can see, I’m what you would call a minimalist person with regards to my Database Setup! I have two databases, one which covers ALL of my reference material for my paperless office and the other which contains an email archive dating back to when my business first started. 

So why have I chosen to go for this approach? Why not at the very least go for a Home database and a Work database to separate them out? Well, if I was a Full-Time employee as opposed to a small business owner then, in truth, I probably would keep them separate. In fact, there may be a legal requirement for me to do so dependant on the nature of the documents that are being stored. When I first installed DEVONthink Pro Office, I had separate databases for these! However, there would be times when I would be processing my Global DEVONthink Inbox and I’d be thinking to myself “So where does this invoice go? Should this be home or work?” Or there would be an email from somebody that could very well be classified as belonging in one database or the other. When you work for yourself, especially when a lot of that work is done from home, it can be difficult to categorise where some of these pieces of information should be kept. So, as a firm believer in minimising how much thinking I should do so that I can save my brain power for more important decisions, I decided to have one database. 

But wait a second I hear you say. I thought that DEVONthink had an artificial intelligence engine that would be able to look at the file and make a very educated assumption as to where the file should go? This is indeed true, however it can only make this decision once it has been placed into a database (every database has it’s own separate Inbox. We will be getting to this I promise in further posts). Therefore it saves me a lot of time by adding everything into one database and then I can use the Auto-Classify feature to place the item into the correct group.  

Once you’ve decided on the logical structure of your database - that is, how many databases and what will be contained within - it’s time to move on to the physical side of the structure and how they are going to be created.  


Before you create your database, it’s important to think about where you should be physically locating it. More importantly, it’s important to be thinking about where you SHOULDN’T be locating it!

Cloud Storage and NAS devices are not advisable locations for the storage of your DEVONthink databases. That’s not to say you that you can’t keep them there, just that you shouldn’t. There is too much of a risk of data loss should two machines open the database at the same time. Older data can be overwritten with newer data very easily. Synchronisation can quite easily fail for any number of reasons and it is so much easier to keep a consistent database if you store it locally on your machine, so this is what I do. 

I still keep a periodical backup copy of the database on cloud storage, a Time Machine backup to my NAS and an off-site backup using BackBlaze (yes, my OCD gets to live large when the subject of backups comes up!)

In the next post, I will go into detail about how the contents of my database is structured with regards to the Group (folder) setup and how I make use of Smart Groups.