5 Ways I Use Alexa to Stay Productive While I Work From Home

published Nov 9, 2021
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Credit: Sylvie Li

2020 was the year I got acquainted with work-from-home life, and — at least for me! — the transition is here to stay. There are tons of perks to my setup, like snuggles with my dog, all-day access to my fridge, neighborhood walks to break up my day, and even the ability to take a quick power nap on the couch or, dare I say, my bed if my schedule allows. But even with all the creature comforts that home provides, working from home also comes with its challenges. 

There are distractions galore and plenty of opportunities to procrastinate on work tasks, like that pile of laundry that just has to be done or a television that’s just asking to be turned on. And while some people’s work-from-home setups also include juggling family care duties, it’s just me at home with no one peeking over my shoulder. That means, I often fluctuate between extremes. Sometimes I feel even more inclined to give in to distractions and perhaps not get as much done as I could; other days, I get so involved in my work that I work without taking breaks, and I don’t know when to stop. Finding a balance is important — I want to stay focused as I work from home, but I don’t want to be so focused that all of my time at home turns into work.

Little did I know that the Alexa sitting on my desk could help in my quest for focus and productivity. Amazon recently sent me an Echo Show 8, as well as a pair of Echo Buds to try, and I put them to the test to see if these smart devices could help me stay on task as I work from home. I’ve learned that Alexa can do way more than just tell time and share the  weather, and below are some of my favorite Alexa productivity hacks.  

I use the device to help myself stay on task.

I would love it if I could pay someone to keep me on schedule, but I’m not in the market for a personal assistant. For now I’m happy to set reminders through Alexa, which I suppose is the next best thing. I created a work from home “routine,” which consists of reminders to start my work and take breaks; it’s also easy to schedule things, like reminders or turning on music, that happen automatically. I follow the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks the day into 25-minute chunks with five minute breaks in between, and a longer break after four pomodoros. Not having to set a bunch of phone alarms is nice, and I’ve found that Alexa’s reminders feel a little less jarring than the normal sounds that a timer or an alarm makes. 

I can play music that helps me focus…

A little background music helps me concentrate, especially if I’m having trouble getting in the zone. I usually opt for low-key piano music, and it’s easy to ask Alexa to play my usual focus playlists on Spotify. I never listen to this kind of music when I’m not working, and it’s nice to have something specific to listen to as I write and send emails. At times, I also like to have music directly in my ears; when that’s the case, I put in Echo Buds, which are Alexa-enabled earbuds. They hurt my ears after a while, so I don’t wear them all day, but I like being able to skip or pause songs without reaching for my phone. 

… and block out otherwise-distracting noise.

Echo Buds are also noise cancellation-enabled, and they’ve come in handy when maintenance workers have come to work on my apartment balcony, or when my downstairs neighbor’s dog constantly barks. In the past, I would take my laptop into my small walk-in closet and close the door whenever it was especially noisy — so this is a welcome adjustment. The headphones don’t block out all the noise, but it’s enough that I don’t feel the need to hide anymore. I simply put them on and say, “Alexa, enable noise cancellation,” and the outside world becomes relatively muted. 

I can set reminders to keep myself moving...

I love my gym time, but sometimes that’s the first thing that gets taken off my plate when my schedule fills up or I have a lot of work tasks to complete. When those days come around, I like using my pre-set reminders as motivation to peel myself away from my computer for a walk or stretch.  If I have a little more time, I use the Alexa app called “Seven Minute Workout.” The first time I did it, I was pleasantly surprised by how sweaty and out of breath I was by the end of the circuit. You can choose between three modalities, including low-impact and advanced options, so you can work out at whatever level suits your needs or mindset that day. 

And not all of my reminders need to be serious.

Working from home can feel monotonous in its own way, so I’ve found ways to mix up my routine and even make myself laugh from time to time. Instead of setting a reminder so that Alexa simply tells me “It’s’ time to end your work day,” I decided to set a routine so that the Kool and the Gang song “Celebration” plays at 6 p.m. every day. It’s a fun way to signify it’s time to put my laptop away, and I look forward to the end of the work day for a whole new reason. Plus, it’s the total opposite of my piano music, and the upbeat song gets me into a post-work mode pretty quickly.

Overall, I do believe Alexa helps me stay on track, even though it may not be foolproof. Of course, I could completely ignore the reminders I set, so there’s a fair amount of self-control involved in my everyday routine. Even so, it’s nice to have a device that helps me keep track of my schedule and create a positive work-from-home atmosphere, as well as plays music that gets me in the zone. Now if only Alexa could fold my laundry and do the dishes, too!