5 Ways a Smart Speaker Can Improve Your Life

How smart speakers can help you have a calmer, more organized home environment.

Posted Jan 08, 2019

Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

Many of us struggle to feel like a master and not a slave when it comes to technology. However, if you're thoughtful about it, mindful use of technology can be very helpful for streamlining your life and reducing stress.

For instance, as the mother of a toddler, I find two types of technology incredibly useful for having a calmer, more organized home environmentmy robot vacuum cleaner and, especially, my smart speakers. 

Check out these five ways using a smart speaker that can smooth friction points in your life. 

(Note: I use the Google Home, but most of these tips will also work with Amazon's Alexa. I don't love Alexa, partly because her voice often sounds slightly depressed to me, but everyone will have their own preferences.)

1. Smart speakers can help you stay off your phone and computer.

When we spend so much time looking at screens, there's something incredibly relaxing about having a device with some of the same functionality but without a screen.

  • Imagine this scenario: You've put your computer and phone aside to spend some quality time with your child. You're just starting doing a puzzle together on the floor, but then you remember something important you meant to add to your e-calendar. Your choices are (A) going to get your device, or (B) trying to hold in mind whatever you need to remember.  Both of these options are distracting and disruptive. If you have a smart speaker, you can just call out to it and add your event.  
  • Likewise, let's say you're baking and need to convert a measurement in the recipe. Instead of turning on your phone or computer, you can just call out and ask your speaker.
  • Or, let's say you're mentally planning your week as you're jumping in the shower. You can't remember what you have scheduled on Friday so you say to your speaker "What's on my calendar for Friday?"

2. Smart speakers can help you actually do stress-saving actions that you might otherwise blow off.

Smart speakers are very useful in situations when you know you should check some information but you think "I'll just wing it" because you're feeling rushed. For example:

  • You're running out the door to the airport and your arms are full.  You think "I really should check if I'm going to need an umbrella" or "Maybe I need to take my warmer coat?" but in that moment, it's just too much for you to put everything down and check the weather.  Instead, you can call out to your speaker and say "Is it going to rain in (city) this week?"
  • Or, perhaps you're leaving the house to run errands and you think "I really should check the time the bank closes. I think it's 5:30pm but maybe it's 5:00pm?" If you're feeling rushed or low on willpower, you can end up not checking information that will potentially save you from incurring stress and wasted time. Having the smart speaker makes it easier to do this.
  • Another feature I find useful with the Google Home is doing a quick check of traffic.  I say "How's the traffic to ..." and it tells me the drive time from my house, what route is currently best, and puts the directions on my phone.

3. Basic timers can be incredibly useful for managing distractions.

It's easy to make mistakes due to becoming distracted, like putting the hose on and forgetting to turn it off, putting in a load of laundry and then forgetting it's there, or overcooking baking. Setting timers is a very simple way to overcome this. Here are some use cases.

  • When I'm baking, I often set three timers (one for the cook time stated in the recipe. one for a few minutes shorter than the cook time when I want to check the food, and a couple of minutes longer than the cook time in case I've decided to leave it in the oven a few extra minutes). Because I know I have the timers set, I can concentrate on whatever else I want to focus on while the food is cooking, without concern about forgetting about it. Not having divided attention saves a great deal of stress.
  • You can set a timer whenever you want to limit the time you spend on something, like you'll clean for 10 minutes or you'll stop working on something after 40 minutes.

4.  You can use music and relaxing sounds to train your brain.

Since our brains pair experiences together, you can use music and ambient sounds to help shape your routines.

  • I play lullabies from YouTube as part of my toddler's sleep routine (just the sound, not the video).
  • We also sometimes listen to rain sounds or other relaxing, ambient sounds that are built-in options within the Google system (including white noise, sounds of the forest etc).
  • If you need to do a quick tidy up, try doing it for the length of one song. Have a song or a few songs that are designated as your "tidy up" songs and only listen to them when you want to tidy up.
  • Alternatively, create your own tidying up playlist.  If you struggle with boom and bust cycles of perfectionism and avoidance when it comes to cleaning or organizing, create an energizing playlist of 4–5 songs.  Clean up an area of your house for the length of each song.  Just do as much as you can for the length of that song and move on.  Your routine might be something like Song 1: Pick up items off floor, Song 2: Clear the kitchen bench, Song 3: Make the bed etc. Pair the same songs to the same task each time so that you're conditioning your brain to associate the two. It doesn't matter if you don't completely finish each task. The idea is to do what's manageable so you don't feel overwhelmed. (For more tips along these lines, check out this article on the 5 Thinking Habits of Tidy People)

5. Speakers can help mitigate any negative consequences of disorganization.

I've touched on some other examples that overlap with this point already, but I think this is an important conceptual point that it's worth making separately.   

  • For instance, let's say you were going to run your robot vacuum but then you got in the bath. You can just call out and start it from the bath. 
  • If you're hot or cold during the night and you have a smart thermostat, you can change the temperature with your voice, without getting up and disrupting your sleep more.
  • If you remember something you forgot to do while you're in the middle of something else, you can set a timer for whenever you think you'll be finished what you're currently doing, and use the timer going off as your reminder to do the forgotten thing. (You can set an actual reminder but I find myself just using timers as reminders a lot of the time.)
  • If your spouse is out grocery shopping and you remember something you need, you can make a quick call using the speaker when you don't want to get your phone out.
  • You can use the speaker to find your phone when you've lost it.
  • This is a tip I wrote about in The Healthy Mind Toolkit: If you ever put an item away and think "I need to remember where I put this" you can ask your speaker to do that, such as "Remember I put my passport in...."  You then call the information back up by saying "What did I ask you to remember about my passport?"  or "What did I ask you to remember?" to get a list of things you asked it to remember.

Wrapping Up

Voice assistants can be an easy way to stay organized, efficient, and energized.  Since they don't have screens or "features" like auto-play or intrusive push notifications, they don't suck you into overusing them the way phones and computers can. Therefore, they can be a good way to utilize the benefits of technology without feel excessively tied to it or intruded upon.

Like everything related to technology you can become overwhelmed by the technology itself if you don't approach it mindfully.  You don't need to understand every single thing you can do with a smart speaker since the most psychologically useful functions can be generally accomplished with the most basic features, like timers. In this article, I've focused on categories of ways smart speakers can provide an assist with psychological weak spots, such as helping you avoid excessive task switching (by allowing you to get information or set reminders on the fly), taking information off your mind, and either relaxing or energizing yourself. 

Note: These are all commands I use with the Google Assistant/Google Home. In most cases, they'll work the same way with Amazon Alexa but there might be the odd one that doesn't or that requires different phrasing.