A clever way to link Notes and Files with TextExpander

I’ve come across a clever way to link things together without linking them on your Mac. This comes in handy especially in apps and places where you can’t have a link (Apple Notes, Files, etc). It’s honestly better than linking because now you can link not only to a note or file but you can also link to the exact spot in the note.

You create a “time stamp” using TextExpander where it goes from the year down to the second, it looks like this (a20180623104826). Since it changes every second it’s a unique string and you don’t have to worry about it repeating as time is always moving forward.

You place that time stamp where you need to “link” to and put another copy where you’re coming from with using the words “search for 20180623104826”. Since Spotlight is so powerful you can enter that time stamp in and be taken right to where you need to go.

You can place that time stamp anywhere in a note and be taken right to the exact spot in the note making it far superior to linking. Maybe you’re writing up a case and you need to refer back to a certain spot in some other note that is buried, with this method you can search for the note and not only that but cmd+f the time stamp and go right to the location in the note.

You may have noticed I left out the “a” in the time stamp where I’m coming from. That is so that I don’t get the places I’m coming from showing up when searching. I could have many places I’m coming from and I don’t need them showing up.

I mostly use this for journals to refer back to a certain journal note. But I also use it for files by doing the “get more info” button and placing the time stamp in the comments section. This way I can link to audio files or videos from a journal or word processor without placing them in the note.

Where it really shines beyond the journals and such is using it in my to-do app or calendar app. I find often that I need set a reminder to check on something and instead of putting the whole reason why I need to check on it when setting the reminder I just put the timestamp in there instead. For example, I pay quarterly taxes which means I have a reminder in my to-do app with a time stamp in it going to a note in Apple Notes. This note shows me the correct way to place the envelope in the printer and what buttons to press to make sure it’s perfect with the addresses. I know it sounds silly but I only do this every 3 to 4 months and honestly forget between then as I have other things to occupy my mind. When the reminder shows up I copy that time stamp and search in Spotlight and get taken right to the correct note. No need fire up Apple Notes and jump through folders trying to find the note, or maybe you’re like me and forget you even had that note, with the time stamp you go right to it when searching for it in Spotlight.

To make the time stamp I have two keys I use, the + and the - keys since they’re right next to each other. You can make your triggers anything you want in TextExpander. Here is the exact snippet I use in TextExpander - (a%Y%m%d%H%M%S)

A big upside is that this works on any Operating System that supports indexing or search. And since its just basically text it’s pretty future proof too.


Interesting approach this!

This is essentially what is used in the new note app Archive - and what I tried briefly in NVAlt - and I agree with this conclusion: “ I find the separation between topic names and topic identifiers that is a basic feature of The Archive…clumsy” http://takingnotenow.blogspot.com/2018/06/reading-versus-writing.html

I’ve never heard of Archive, but it’s cool that others are using this idea.

They seem to use the timestamp as a way to link to a note itself, but I use mine to link to parts of a note. Here is an example

This way I jump to the section of the note I’m trying to point out instead of having to skim for it.

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I like it. Have you tried it cross platform, such as creating the time stamp in a document on your iPad, that is synced over to your Mac (via Dropbox, DEVONthink, or some other method)? Even if the clocks on your devices aren’t perfectly in sync, as long as they are close I guess the chances of you getting a conflict with duplicate stamps (creating a stamp on one device, and then quickly creating one on another) are slim.

Oh yea, the chances of duplicate stamps are very small. Unless you have 100’s of people using the same central folders then it would be a issue. But for that problem you could use initials instead of the “a” in front to signify your timestamps.


Since I don’t have TextExpander, I made a simple Shortcut to put the times stamp on the clipboard for using in iOS.
I’ll have to see if it comes in handy long term, but it’s a nice idea this Timestamp linking, thanks.