Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

Hey Alexa, Make My Life Easier

For years, Amazon has made our collective lives more convenient by selling just about everything under the sun on its expansive e-commerce platform. Since the introduction of Alexa, Amazon’s virtual, voice-activated assistant, and its supplementary speaker device, Echo, we can now cry out for anything we wish — and it is granted. Amazon has truly cornered the market on personal convenience.

But is there such a thing as too much convenience? Overreliance on technology can often result in a physical decrease in productivity and efficiency. When everything is available to us at the touch of a button, it can be easy to fall into patterns of inactivity and shiftlessness.

Here are some suggestions I’ve come up with for using Alexa to increase personal productivity.

Develop some skills

In order to make the most of your Alexa, I recommend learning about her available skills — these are just added functionality tools, like apps. A quick visit to Amazon’s skills store and you can choose from tens of thousands of options, nearly all of which can bring order, insight, and convenience into your life, lowering stress and significantly boosting productivity.

  • Word of the Day Flash Briefing — improve your vocabulary by learning a new word, and its definition, each and every day. Make it a part of your morning routine, along with your alarm, your news headlines and a briefing of the day’s weather.
  • Guided Meditation — I know what you’re thinking, but before you immediately dismiss this suggestion, understand that meditation does not necessarily require hours of chanting while sitting cross-legged in a silent space. A session can take as little as five minutes and can be implemented anywhere, in any type of clothing. Meditation improves focus and cognitive thinking, allowing you to gain a clear head and relinquish any stress that is preventing you from being productive.
  • TED Talks — a motivating lecture in between meetings is a great way to boost your productivity. Learn fascinating new methods of communication, research, innovative thinking or inspiration by tuning into one of the hundreds of official TED conferences streamed directly through your Echo speaker.
  • Five Minute Workout — one of the biggest excuses for avoiding the gym is a lack of time. Not with this Alexa skill. “Five Minute Workout” is designed for your hectic work life, offering intensive cardio and stretch activities you can execute on your lunch break (just be sure to close your office door and bring another freshly pressed shirt if you’re prone to excessive sweating). An active mind is a productive mind.
  • Get Up — sometimes when productivity and creativity are just not on the day’s menu (and when they really need to be), you might want to try something a little bit more impactful than a quiet period of internal reflection or a stimulating lecture. Quite simply, you need to get up. Yes, by uttering the simple command “Alexa, Get Me Up!”, our favorite girl unleashes a torrent of motivational prompts and missives in your lazy direction until you are sufficiently pumped up. Still not convinced? One user describes this option as “interesting and annoying enough to actually make me get up off the couch 70% of the time”. Those are some decent odds.

Make some calls and send some texts

Making wireless phone calls has never been easier. Alexa supports voice calling to both landlines and mobile phones, while an Echo can serve as a speakerphone (Echoes are relatively inexpensive — I’d recommend purchasing a few and keeping them in areas throughout your home and office). Setup is also a breeze: open the Alexa app on your mobile phone, tap the speech bubble icon and enter your phone number (you will be sent a verification code via text). Simply follow the instructions.

Now that you are verified, you can begin making calls: “Alexa, call [contact’s name]” or “Alexa, call [phone number]”. Ever the sweetheart, Alexa will ask you to confirm your request in order to avoid dialing the wrong contact.

Alexa is also a whiz at shooting off text messages on your behalf. If you’ve got an Android phone, she can send texts to any mobile number. Simply say, “Alexa, send a text to [contact name],” and follow it up with your message. You can even include punctuation while dictating by adding commands like “comma” and “exclamation point”.

Set the mood

Having Alexa play ambient music or background noise is a great way to increase productivity when performing dry or mundane tasks, especially when sitting at a desk. While others prefer popping on a podcast to enhance their thought process, others would do well to check out some of the great voiceless options to fill that intimidating silence.

Instead of manually searching for playlists on Pandora or Spotify, you can add a skill like “Shoptalk” to Alexa and have it play streams (via Echo) like “Coffitivity”, an audio site that recreates the familiar ambient din heard in coffee shops, helping you to work better by stimulating your creativity. Studies have shown that certain types of audible assistance can significantly increase productivity. And luckily, there is an entire catalog of options available, from white noise to running water to bird calls — and everything in between.

Make some commands

When you’ve got Alexa to help keep you on top of your tasks, it becomes difficult to find excuses for procrastination. First thing’s first: when you wake up, ask Alexa about your schedule for the day. If you wish to make adjustments to your calendar, ask her to add or remove an event.

But don’t stop there! Use your imagination throughout the day, or set commands based around personal challenges: ask Alexa to remind you to get ready for bed, or to go to the gym, or to brush your teeth, whatever activities typically leave you feeling unmotivated.

And of course, one of Alexa’s greatest features for productivity — making a list. Whether you’re compiling a grocery list, a weekly to-do list or even a travel itinerary, having an automatic voice reminder will not only keep you organized but increase the likelihood of you actually checking off each item.