8 Alexa tips for people who are too damn busy – CNET

Everyone is busier than ever before, it seems. The days seem to be getting shorter, while the list of things to do continues to grow.

Fortunately, we live in a world where technology can handle some of the more menial tasks. If you’re the owner of an Alexa speaker, here are a few ways you can employ it to free up some of your time and take a little of the load off your shoulders.

Add your calendars

Whether you use Google Calendar, G Suite, Microsoft Outlook or Office 365 or Apple‘s iCloud for keeping a schedule, you can connect your calendar to Alexa so it can better serve you as a digital assistant.

To connect your calendar, go to alexa.amazon.com or open the Alexa app on Android or iOS, then go to Settings > Calendar and select either GoogleMicrosoft or Apple. Log in to your account and authorize the connection. If you want, you can add multiple calendars, but you will only be able to add new events to one of the connected calendars.

You will then be able to ask Alexa what’s on your calendar by saying:

  • “Alexa, when is my next event?”
  • “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”
  • “Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow at [time]?”
  • “Alexa, add an event to my calendar.”
  • “Alexa, show me my calendar.” (Only works on Echo Show ($229.99 at Amazon.com).)
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Chris Monroe/CNET

Manage your to-do lists

Alexa has a built-in to-do list, but it’s very bare-bones and can only be accessed through the Alexa app. However, last year, Amazon added support for two-way sync with Any.do and Todoist.

This means you can create a new task in either Any.do or Todoist and it will appear in Alexa’s list of to-dos, and vice versa.

To connect either Any.do or Todoist, go to alexa.amazon.com or open the Alexa app and go to Settings > Lists. Select Any.do or Todoist, log in to your account and authorize the connection. Create a new task by saying, “Alexa, add ‘go to the grocery store’ to my to-do list.” You can also check your list by saying, “Alexa, what’s on my to-do list?” 

Create reminders

Now that Amazon’s Alexa speakers can handle notifications, you can create reminders. Say something like, “Alexa, remind me to check the oven in 20 minutes,” or, “Alexa, remind me to call mom three days from now.”

When it’s time to be reminded, the light ring on the Alexa speaker will spin green and it will tell you what you wanted to remember. If you miss the reminder, the light ring will pulse periodically, and you can say, “Alexa, what did I miss?”

Actually use the Flash Briefing

The Flash Briefing is a very helpful feature, so long as you take the time to actually set it up and use it.

Flash Briefing will give you a weather forecast for the day, as well as any relevant news you’ve chosen to include. Say, “Alexa, play my Flash Briefing.”

Ask about the traffic before you leave

If you have a daily commute to work in the morning or a mid-afternoon meeting you don’t want to be late for, just ask Alexa for a traffic update on your way out the door.

Say either, “Alexa, how is traffic?” or, ” Alexa, what’s my commute?” If you have a meeting, just make sure your work address in the Alexa app is set to the correct location first. (I always set my work location to the most frequented coffee shop and try to schedule any meetings I may have there.)

Use timers to stay on task

As someone who has been working remotely for over eight years, I’ve found that staying on task is much easier when the clock is ticking. Setting timers throughout the day is a great way to make sure you’re making the right progress to hit your targets or deadlines.

Fortunately, Alexa is great at handling timers — even simultaneous timers. Planning for a few 15-minute breaks to grab a snack and a coffee or just to stretch your legs, start your work day off by creating some timers:

  • “Alexa, create a procrastination timer for 15 minutes.” (I use this to get social media and news reading out of the way right after I sit down.)
  • “Alexa, create a work timer for one hour and 15 minutes.”
  • “Alexa, create a break timer for one and a half hours.”
  • “Alexa, create work timer for two and a half hours.”
  • “Alexa, create a break timer for two hours and 45 minutes.”
  • “Alexa, create a work timer for three hours and 45 minutes.”

A pomodoro timer on your computer or phone might be more efficient, but it can still be done rather easily with Alexa.

Reorder essential items

If you’re running low on supplies and know that opening up an Amazon tab in your browser will lead you down a rabbit hole of browsing the daily deals and buying a bunch of things you don’t actually need, just tell Alexa to order what you need.

You can buy pretty much anything on Amazon just by asking Alexa. Say, “Alexa, order Old Spice deodorant,” or, “Alexa, buy printer paper.” If you’ve previously ordered something you need, you can tell Alexa to reorder an item to get the same item again without having to listen to several suggestions from a voice search.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Create a work environment

If you work from home (or not in an office), part of the struggle is creating a space that’s conducive to getting work done.

Using IFTTT, I created an applet with Alexa and LIFX bulbs ($150.00 at Amazon.com) that changes the lights in my home office to a cool color (which promotes productivity and might explain why you don’t get anything done at your favorite cozy coffee shop). Then I tell Alexa to stream the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify. (When I really need to focus, I turn on every possible instance of Do Not Disturb on — on my phones, tablets, computers and Alexa.)

Getting into the habit of activating this every time I need to work took some time, but after it became a habit, it was easier to sit down and get straight to work.

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