Editor’s Note: This story is part of our feature, “Secrets of 13 of the most productive people.” See the complete 2018 list here.
Alexa can do more than tell you whether it’s going to rain or help you order a pizza. While nearly a third of Americans own smart speakers, such as the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod—a number that’s expected to rise to 48% by the end of the year, according to Adobe—most of us use these devices for mundane requests like playing music or checking the temperature. To get the AI brainpower behind these devices—Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Siri—to work harder for you, start employing these magic words.
“Schedule a meeting”
Instead of clicking through a calendar app, ask your voice assistant to block off your schedule. You can specify the date, time, and event name in your request, and Alexa can even invite contacts to your events. (For anything else, you’ll need an old-fashioned app.)
“Play some white noise”
This seems like an obvious one, but few people actually do it. Background noise is a great way to drown out distractions and get into a work mind-set. Try asking for different kinds of noise—like rain, a fireplace, or forest sounds—to see what works best for you.
“Remind me to stop procrastinating . . . in 15 minutes”
If you find yourself slipping down a Twitter or Instagram rabbit hole too often during the day, ask your Assistant to rein you in. Alexa users can also say, “Start tomato helper” to start a version of the Pomodoro Technique, a popular time-management strategy that encourages switching frequently between work and break times.
“Make a phone call”
Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod all beat dinky smartphone speakers when you need to be hands-free during a call. They’ll even display your regular phone number to the other party.
If you have multiple Amazon Echo or Google Home speakers around your office, use this command to record and send out a one-way message to all your colleagues. Home-office workers: It’s also handy for telling the kids to “quiet down, please.”