Amazon’s Alexa has skills out the ying-yang, as my husband would say. In fact, Amazon’s Alexa has become my most valuable tool in my never-ending fight against chaos, unorganization and forgetfulness.
I bought Amazon’s Echo Dot when it went on sale. It was possibly the best purchase I’ve made in my adult life. I keep it in the kitchen, the hub of the house, so Alexa is handy most of the day. (Even if I’m in my office I can holler out the door and she hears me.)
I liked Amazon’s Echo Dot so much that I bought a second one for my upstairs. Now, when I’m doing laundry, cleaning or trying to roust my teenagers in the morning, Alexa is there to help. (I’m serious about the rousting part. More on that later.)
In this blog post, I’m going to cover several helpful things Alexa can do to make your life easier and save you time.
I took a poll.
Just because I think I know everything, doesn’t mean that I do. And just because I think I can relate to everyone, doesn’t mean I’m not way off the mark. Before I researched and wrote about Amazon’s Alexa skills, I wanted to make sure I wrote about skills that people would find truly useful.
In a nutshell, here’s what I learned. (You can see the full blog post with poll results on Medium.)
- The majority of respondents work full-time.
- The majority of respondents were 46 to 55 years-old, with 36 to 45-year-olds coming in a close second.
- Their interests were mostly movies and TV; books and magazines; and travel.
- The number one thing respondents wanted help with was household chores. Grocery shopping was a distant second.
- The information respondents wanted to have at their fingertips was news headlines, weather and lifestyle tips, like recipes.
- I asked respondents to picture being lonely, and then choose an activity that would most likely relieve their loneliness. I did this because I wanted to find out how people would most want to interact with Amazon’s Alexa. The majority said they would want to chat, with checking/posting to social media coming in second.
- The number one way respondents want to communicate (other than calling someone) is by text messages.
My biggest takeaway from this poll is that people are busy busy busy, and would rather spend their time doing pretty much anything other than cleaning their home or grocery shopping. Armed with this knowledge, I started asking Alexa to do a variety of things, to see if her skills could help solve some of these problems.
No matter how you use Amazon’s Alexa, there are a few basic commands you can use for everything.
“Alexa, stop” will stop whatever is happening, whether it’s music, news, timers, alarms or an audiobook. Anything.
“Alexa, volume 10” will turn up the volume on your Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot to the loudest setting. (Volume 1 is the lowest setting.) You can also say, “Alexa, turn up the volume” or “Alexa, turn down the volume” to increase or decrease the volume incrementally.
Now, let’s move on to some very practical Amazon Alexa skills.
No matter why you’re busy — your job, your family — your time is precious. I know mine is. One of the biggest time sucks in my life is trying to keep track of everything: groceries, appointments, phone calls, errands, car pools and on and on. Not anymore!
I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say I have a lot less stress, and a lot more mental space, because Amazon’s Echo Dot and Alexa have lifted a heavy burden. Alexa has become my time management guru.
Calendar. When it comes to my calendar, Alexa can add events, remind me of events and tell me what the heck is going on. If I say, “Alexa, how does my day look?” she runs down all the items on my calendar. If I say, “Alexa, add ‘book signing’ to April 16, 2018” BAM. It’s on my calendar. (Book signing, you say? Hey, a girl can dream, right?)
You have to sync your calendar with Alexa in order for her to work her date magic. Alexa can sync with iCloud, Google, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Outlook.com, as well as personal calendar accounts with @outlook.com, @hotmail.com and @live.com on the end.
Follow these instructions to sync your calendar with Alexa. You’ll have to use the app on your phone. It’s super easy. In fact, setting up anything with Alexa is super easy!
Reminders. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought of something I needed to do or buy or remember, then walked into the next room, and completely forgot whatever it was that I was just thinking about. I know you have too. Alexa solved this problem for me 100%.
I use Alexa to remind me about all kinds of things. Depositing checks at the bank (something I’m terrible at); sending excuse notes to school; calling the doctor for lab results; switching the laundry (another thing I’m terrible about); and so much more.
For instance, when my son was sick and stayed home from school, I knew I needed to send an excuse note with him in the morning. However, at 6 a.m. my brain doesn’t work very well. So, I said, “Alexa, remind me at 6:05 a.m. tomorrow (when I knew I’d be up and in my kitchen) to write an excuse note.” Guess what? She did! And I did! No truancy officer is showing up on my doorstep!
You might be thinking, what if I’m not near my Amazon Echo Dot when the reminder goes off? Not to worry; the reminder will buzz your phone too.
The beauty of having Alexa remind me of these itty-bitty things is that it frees up precious brain space, and saves me all the time I would waste trying to remember what I had forgotten.
Alarms. Amazon’s Alexa can set any kind of alarm you need. She can set a one-time alarm, or recurring alarms. She can set an alarm for weekdays only, or days in the future. You can even tell her to snooze.
Using Alexa as your alarm means that you don’t have to fuss with buttons or squint at the settings on your clock or even figure out if your clock is showing an accurate time. Just tell Alexa when to set the alarm and you’re finished! Here are some examples of how to tell Alexa to set an alarm.
Timers. Although timers seem a lot like alarms and reminders, they’re a little different. Rather than telling Alexa an exact date or time, she starts counting from the time you give the command. If you say, “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes,” then 10 minutes later the Amazon Echo Dot goes off.
I use Alexa’s timer skill for cooking, workouts, homework, screen time and a lot more.
Remember when I said I use Amazon’s Alexa to roust my teenagers out of bed? Here’s how it goes. When I pop my head into their rooms to tell them to get up, I also say, “Alexa, set a timer for five minutes.” That way, if (when) they fall back asleep, Alexa wakes them up again (I make sure the volume is set to 10). They have to wake up enough to say, “Alexa, stop,” which gets them moving. It’s like having a nanny! Sort of.
Tip for parents: f you have more than one Alexa-enabled device, you can “drop in” on one in another location, kind of like an intercom. I actually use the app on my phone for this. When it’s bedtime in my house (oh, the humanity!), I open the app and tap the conversation icon. Then I tap “drop in on Nancy’s basement Echo Dot,” where the kids are allegedly doing homework. I say, “Time for bed!” without even having to get up from my comfy couch.
If your timers get confusing, you can say, “How much time is left on my timer?” or “What timers are set?” or even “Cancel the timer.”
The dreaded to-do list. It’s always hanging over my head and it’s about five miles long. Although Amazon’s Alexa can’t actually do a lot of the things I need to get done (clean the guinea pig cage, anyone?) she can still help me scratch items off the list.
Remember how I said I have trouble remembering stuff? And remember how I said I can have Alexa remind me to do things? Well, that’s great while I’m home, but what happens when I’m out and about?
Lucky for me, Alexa has a built-in skill for to-dos that syncs with the app on my phone.
If I say, “Alexa, add drop off donations to my to-do list” it’s added to the app on my phone. That way, when I’m driving around town, I can pull up my to-do list and finally remember to drop off those bags of clothes that have been riding around in my trunk since last season.
As you can imagine, you can make the to-do list be whatever you want it to be. You could add chores to the to-do list, so that everyone who has the app ([cough] my husband [cough]) can easily see what needs to be done around the house, without you there to remind them.
Same goes for errands. If “pick up guinea pig bedding” is on the to-do list (seriously, someone clean that cage), then anyone who is running errands knows to stop at the pet store.
Of course, all of this “help” requires that people actually check the app on their phone. Alexa can’t train them; that’s up to you.
To see the to-do list, tap the menu lines in the upper left corner of the app, then tap “Shopping & To-do Lists.”
You’ll see two tabs. Tap on “To-do” and there’s the list, with checkboxes and everything for when you complete your tasks.
One of Alexa’s skills is placing Amazon orders, but that’s not the kind of shopping I’m talking about here. (See instructions for placing online Amazon orders.)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the grocery store and forgot the one thing that I really needed to get. Sometimes I even forget to bring the list!
Now, Amazon’s Alexa keeps track of everything I need to buy and I couldn’t be happier. I stand at my refrigerator and tell Alexa what to put on my shopping list. Or, I tell her to put something on the shopping list just as I’m using the last of it. Even better? When my husband and my kids use the last bit of whatever, they can say, “Alexa, put [you name it] on the shopping list.” And it’s there!
Just like to-dos, shopping list items are updated on the app. If I’m out shopping, I can bring up my list and not forget a single item. Now I feel crazy efficient when I grocery shop!
To see the shopping list, tap the menu lines in the upper left corner of the app, then tap “Shopping & To-do Lists.”
And just like to-dos, if my husband is out shopping, he has the same list and doesn’t have to ask me what I need. What a time saver!
Do you want to level up? If you’re a Peapod user, you can ask Alexa to add stuff to your Peapod cart. Boom! Mind blown!
You just say, “Alexa, ask Peapod to add [blank] to my shopping cart.” Then, when you’re all finished, Alexa can place the order for you. What an age we live in! Learn more about using Alexa and Peapod together.
Now, like I mentioned before, Alexa can’t actually mop your floor or empty the trash. However, Amazon’s Alexa has a few tricks up her sleeve that might be helpful when it comes to household chores.
Vacuum the floor. Amazon’s Alexa can command certain models of the iRobot Roomba, namely the ones that have Wi-Fi connectivity. You can say, “Alexa, ask Roomba to begin cleaning.” Or, you can use Alexa to set up your Roomba schedule.
Pick a chore. Enable a skill called MyHouseholdChores to give you a chore to do. Just say, “Alexa, ask chores picker to give me a household chore,” and Alexa will tell you to, say, mop the floor.
Play music. Alexa can play just about any kind of music you can think of. You can ask for specific songs or albums in your library, or say, “Alexa, play music for cleaning the house.” (Alexa served up a few different playlists when I asked for cleaning music, some classic rock, some pop, some jazz. I liked the pop playlist the best.) Ask Alexa to play classical, hip hop, dance or whatever music to keep you moving while you do chores.
Play an audiobook. This is possibly my favorite Amazon Alexa skill. Now I can listen to my Audible audiobook while I clean or cook. Sure, I could listen to my audiobook on my phone, but if you’ve ever tried to scrub a bathtub and still listen to the book on your phone, you know you miss a lot. The Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot are loud enough that I don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping my phone in the toilet while I listen to an audiobook.
Tip: If you listen to audiobooks alternately on your phone and on your Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot, you might find that your stopping point isn’t always synced. I found that when I’m listening to an Audible audiobook in the car, when I get home and say, “Alexa, play my audiobook,” the book starts at a point I passed some time ago.
To fix this problem, I start up the audiobook on my Audible app while I’m on my home WiFi. Then, I stop the app and have Alexa start the audiobook again. That seems to get the app and the Echo Dot all synced up.
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