How to make Alexa smarter: best productivity skills (updated March 2020)
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
One of Alexa’s somewhat hidden superpowers is making people more productive (or at least helping them feel that way), whether it’s at the office, in the kitchen, or any other place. It’s an easy way of saving time and staying focused on whatever it is you’re doing. Who doesn’t want to be more productive?
While Alexa on its own can improve your productivity (e.g. setting appointments or reminders), there’s, even more, to be gained by enabling a few skills here and there. In our previous Alexa skills-based post, we focused on enhancing the fun side of Amazon’s smart assistant. Now it’s time to get serious and do some work. As always, be sure to go to the skill’s detail page for examples of voice commands and to learn more about its functionality.
1. Sleep Sounds
“Serious” and “work” aren’t the likely combination when it comes to soothing sounds, especially since they can help you sleep. The jury is still out whether ambient noise is actually helpful or harmful productivity-wise. However, there are numerous people who’ll attest that a little bit of peace and quiet (and occasional shuteye) can be a powerful tool for success. It can’t hurt to try, right?
There are plenty of similar skills that enable natural sounds and it’s hard to think you can go with most of them. Our pick is Sleep Sounds that plays a number of calming sounds (close to 50) that can either help you in terms of sleep or simply relax and focus. Loops last one hour in the free version, and you can also set a custom timer for it to end.
Continuing in a similar fashion, Headspace will appeal to people who practice meditation or are looking to start. The ever-popular method of training the mind to focus and redirect thoughts, meditation is seen primarily as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration but people also use it to gain a positive mood and outlook and improve self-discipline, among other science-based benefits.
Headspace offers hundreds of themed sessions covering a variety of topics, ranging from stress to sleep. Also included are different formats for learning how to meditate such as bite-sized meditations for tight schedules, and SOS exercises for meltdown moments. A new guided meditation is ready every day, accompanied by a sleep exercise to help you ease up.
3. Inspire Me
If you are looking to lift mind and spirit, Inspire Me is a neat motivational tool that will help you find inspiration and focus on more positive thoughts. Basically, this is a daily reminder of how each day is a unique and learning experience of its own.
You can go through topics and ask about specific ones, as well as ask for a combination of a speaker and a topic. Listed under ‘Self improvement’, Inspire Me is great if you want to fire up a quote about success from Elon Musk, for example, and get a boost in terms of productivity. Inspiration audio is varied and sourced from movies, famous figures, and speeches, poems – all accompanied with light background music.
Tomato Helper is the unofficial skill of the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed in the late 80s that uses a timer to break down work into intervals. In this case, you get to work for 25 minutes, then rest for 5 minutes. A ticking clock is played by default (you can silence it), and you can also inquire about your progress while the timer is running.
Chances are, this won’t have the same appeal to everyone but if you are a person that needs the ticking to stay on track, look no further than Tomato Helper.
A number of things affect productivity, and while keeping track of a wide range of topics and events doesn’t necessarily come first (or second or third) to mind, it helps to take a few minutes and learn something new, if only for the sake of it. That’s where Make Me Smart excels.
The easiest way to describe Make Me Smart would be bits and pieces of smart as it offers short explanations of various topics. This daily skill is a continuation of Make Me Smart podcast, also featuring hosts Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood that cover the economy, technology, popular culture, and more. Presented in an easy-going way with simple language, Make Me Smart always brings something interesting.
Now we’re getting serious. As described on its skills page, Mastermind “is cross-platform AI (artificial intelligence) that helps you get things done on any voice-enabled device.” Basically, you enable an AI assistant within an AI assistant. That might sound counterintuitive at first, but the sheer volume of what Mastermind can do means there are certain aspects that are out of Alexa’s scope.
For instance, you can cast to Chromecast, check where your phone is (it will ring) or ask who’s calling you even if your phone isn’t in the same room as you are. Getting text messages is just as easy, and numerous commands work especially well with smartphone integration (available for Android and iOS phones). All in all, this is a comprehensive skill that covers a lot of ground and showcases just how impressive Alexa can be in the right environment.
7. Feisty Farts
Stress can become bad only if you allow it and one of the best ways to deal with is laughter. Sometimes, it just helps to be silly and laugh your head off – that’s why we’re including Feisty Farts here.
Childishly funny, hearing Alexa rip a few good ones surely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. We look at it this way: who are the people that don’t need a fart skill? For those that find flatulence entertaining, this is the go-to skill to unwind and share a few laughs (plus, it’s guaranteed to drive your dog crazy). One could even say we’re ending this list with a bang!
Are your children acting up and need a timeout? The simple Time Out skill is a lifesaver or at least a sanity-saver, especially if you are a work-from-home mom or dad. It lets you set a Time Out for up to 10 minutes and during this time, Alexa will gently but firmly remind your kids once per minute to stay quiet. They will also be told how much time is left and be commended on a job well done when the time is up.
How we all envision a time out.
Children react to this interaction exceptionally well since Alexa talks to them personally and addresses them by their names. Although you can’t use other skills while it’s on, Time Out is nevertheless a great assistant to parents and caretakers in keeping kids in check.
9. My Morning
My Morning is a great skill that’ll help you start your day on a positive note. It’s simple but effective enough, with Alexa giving you a series of things to do each morning that will help you be more positive and productive. These can range from meditation and exercise to doing something less physical like organizing and getting your top priorities for the day.
A slight nag that might annoy some people is that if you miss a day, Alexa will make snarky comments or scold you. Nothing like a little bit of sarcasm to get you going, right?. That being said, My Morning is still a nice skill to enable for your everyday routine, especially if you are looking for a calming experience.
10. Kids Court
Here’s another skill for parents or people who work with children on a regular basis. While Kid’s Court is more of a game, it can be used to help you deal with kids who don’t behave, and it can be quite a time saver as well. Alexa will take the role of a judge and hear out the misbehaving kids. The little ones will have to present their cases coherently and speak up for themselves and if they don’t listen, they’ll have to comply with some crazy verdicts (and we do mean crazy).
While it definitely can’t replace the actual discipline, it does help with finding a proper punishment for misbehavior. Plus, you never know – you might have fun with it (the kids on the receiving end, though – not so much).
11. Find My Phone
We are willing to bet you are one of those people that misplace their phone sometimes (or on a regular basis) because let’s face it – who isn’t? This simple skill just might be the perfect skill for you. Find My Phone will allow you to ring your lost phone via Alexa without needing to sync all of your contacts. All you need to do is to say “Alexa, find my phone.” and the voice assistant will call your phone even if you’re not connected online.
You’ll need to link your phone before you use it though. The first time you use it, you’ll be asked for your cell number. After you confirm it, you’re all set to go. The skill also has some additional handy commands such as asking Alexa to add or delete a contact, list contacts and naturally – call someone. A simple but useful addition.
That would be all for now. Just like with our previous blog post, we’ll be adding new skills every month so check back with us and keep up the good work!
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