How to efficiently link notes with time-based filenames?

I really struggle to work with my Zettelkasten in Obsidian. All my notes have time-based filenames (such as 2020-04-18 081352.md).

That format makes the file list useless; it only tells me when I made the note, and that isn’t useful for my workflow. So I cannot find notes that way.

When I use [[ to make a list, Obsidian again shows a list of filenames and not the titles I gave the notes. That makes it hard to find a relevant note there.

The search could help in theory. But searching for multiple tags doesn’t work yet. And neither does searching for words that don’t come directly after each other. As a result I rarely find what I look for, or have so many results that it’s inefficient to work with.

What am I missing? How do you succeed with a Zettelkasten in Obsidian?

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I’m curious is there a reason you don’t have the note title in the filename? You can choose to keep the time based name in the filename too. Obsidian will search for text anywhere in the name and it is fuzzy so doesn’t even need to include full words.

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I did so because time-based filenames are the most robust. Every now and then I rewrite the title of the note.

When the title of the note doesn’t show in its filename, I can change the note’s title as often as needed without breaking links.

Plus, time-based filenames make for quick note creation on the go.


I know not all of that applies Obsidian. This program for instance can easily update links after renaming a file.

But the previous software I used didn’t have that feature. And so I got 5100 time-based notes that I’d rather not have to rename to their titles. :disappointed:

Have you considered renaming them in bulk? You can quite easily do it with scripts to grab the first line in the file and append it to the filename.

Then all links in all other files would need to be updated too.
Automatic backup system would consider all these files as new version, taking huge amount of disc space after each change of any title.
Also files might be referenced from outside of system,
Links stored in other systems/applications, external harddrives, internet, … would be broken.
On some file systems, titles added to filenames would exceed maximum length of a pathname.
Some characters are not permitted in filenames.
related: Show [first header found in a file] next-to an ID-only-filename

Edit: Also, Large permanent knowledge base should not have to be reformulated each time we want to use some little tool (e.g. Obsidian) on it.unparalleled interoperability” is one of benefits claimed on Obsidian main page.

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Being able to view multiple notes side by side is my favorite feature about Obsidian. You might have to get used to editing a new note one pane while searching or browsing for related ideas in another. Keyboard shortcuts make this easier:Ctrl+Shift+Click to open a link in a new pane, Ctrl+Alt+<- to go back.

Once you’ve found the note you want to link to, you can either copy and paste its timestamp into the wikilinks, or rename the destination file so you have an easier target for autocomplete.

The other concept to look into on this forum is Maps of Content. If you already have some notes like this that describe and link to a lot of other notes, you could probably identify them using graph view, and rename just those for easier navigation.

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I hadn’t considered the backup being triggered for many files until you mentioned it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Wouldn’t this be a one time thing though to convert all file names and have one full backup once? I only have a few hundred files and very few attachments in my vault. But I can imagine for others it could be an issue if they have thousands of files, even text files can grow huge.

If one uses a lot of links outside of the app, I think it’s fair to say changing all names could be more of a hassle. Right now, even using the same app but different vaults, we can’t link files among them. I presume, at least part of it is due to the inability to automatically relink when renamed. When multiple apps are linking to a file, the issue would only amplify.

I’m also curious about long titles and unsupported characters. Do people often use titles long enough that the file system length for file name characters is reached? I’ve often been taught to always keep titles short but perhaps in some technical context, titles long enough to be a paragraph might be desired. I’d love to be educated on such contexts.

Thanks, this is what I currently do. In the mean time I hope that this relatively popular feature gets implemented in the future: Use H1 or front-matter title instead of or in addition to filename as display name.

That’s true and the main reason I haven’t converted the existing notes to what Obsidian works well it. There are considerable risks in my view and don’t want to break things.

Underlying issue is that you didn’t consider these risks when creating the files. Separating file name from title always requires cooperation from programs, and, as you have discovered, pure datetime tells you little about content unless you are keeping a journal. These issues are potentially ongoing whatever solution you adopt in Obsidian.

When I was considering naming conventions that would be independent of programs or operating systems, I quickly discovered that pure datetime was good for Uid but bad for everything else. I decided to append a small title or tagset (taking care to avoid breaching length limits in some OSs). You should be able to automate much of this using a sophisticated bulk renamer.

Certainly I’d work on the files outside Obsidian (more sophisticated tools) and only use in Obsidian once they are in a more useful format.

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Here is simple request to make the process simpler: