How to increase your productivity with smart speakers
Updated: Apr 7
Andrew Bell is a medical translator working from Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan to English trading under the name Bell Johnson Translations. You can connect with him by using the following links:
When you think about smart speakers, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t productivity. However, over the past year I’ve started integrating my smart speaker into my working life, and I’ve noticed that my productivity has increased substantially. Below I have listed some functionalities that you could try out in your (home) office based on my own personal experience. I use Amazon’s Alexa Echo Dot, but most of what I suggest will be applicable to other smart speakers as well.
When I was a student, my attempt of being organised consisted of leaving 100s of post-it notes all over my desk. When I look back now, I realise there was no method to my madness. I quite often lost the post-it notes, or simply brushed them to one side and never followed up on them. With a smart speaker, making reminders is a very simple and quick process and is done through its voice recognition software. This has two major advantages:
a) Your desk remains clutter free as the reminders are stored in the cloud.
b) The voice recognition software means that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to schedule the reminder.
At the designated time decided by you at the time of scheduling the reminder, the smart speaker provides you both with an audio reminder and a push-notification on your smart phone. Audio reminders are more intrusive than the easy to ignore pop-up reminders on your desktop or phone, so you’re more likely to complete the task you are being reminded to do. Just make sure that you don’t go overboard and schedule so many reminders that it interferes with your main task, in my case, this would be translating.
You can link both your personal and professional calendars to your smart speaker. I would recommend using one calendar for both your professional and personal life, but this is a different topic all together. With my Echo Dot, I am able to link Google, Microsoft and Apple calendars, but as Apple is my calendar of choice, this is what my experience is based on.
I find this functionality useful as Alexa can give me a run down of what I have scheduled for the day ahead (or even the following day), and this allows me plan out my day whilst having my morning coffee. The fact that smart speakers are voice-controlled means that you don’t have to manually open any kind of app to read your schedule, and in addition to this, the speaker aspect allows you to passively listen to your schedule whilst doing another task, such as turning on your computer. I also find it easier to add events to my calendar using the voice recognition software, as this means I don’t first need to stop the task at hand, then navigate countless other tabs in order to open my calendar and then finally schedule the appointment, I can simply say the command in five seconds and it’s done. Of course, smartphones also offer the same functionalities, by using Siri on an iPhone you can similarly schedule events in your calendar using voice recognition software. However, in my experience, smart speakers tend to make less mistakes when you issue voice activated commands, but again this is just in my own limited personal experience.
3. Time tracking
As I wrote in an earlier blog post (see: Staying active as a freelancer), I’m a huge fan of the 50-10 rule. I work intensely for 50 minutes and then I have a 10 minute break. I find that this is one of the most productive working strategies for me, and I control all of this with timers. Before I used to set timers on my phone or on an online stopwatch. I found online stopwatches annoying because they took up space on my already busy screen, and with my phone, whenever I stopped the timer there was always a temptation to spend my 10 minute break checking messages or browsing social media, and from my previous blog post you’ll know that I prefer to be active during these 10 minutes. However, when I set a time with my smart speaker, I get the benefits of time tracking without using valuable screen space and without the temptation to scroll through social media when the timer’s up.
4. Music for concentration
If you don’t like working in silence, smart speakers can be a great tool for playing some ambient background noise. I personally find this more useful when I’m doing routine admin tasks rather than translating, as it makes the task seem less tedious, but I know many people who like to work to music. The great thing about Alexa is that Amazon already has pre-made concentration playlists for you to listen to, so you avoid the time-consuming task of trying to find the perfect playlist.
5. World clock
If you work with clients in other countries as I do, the world clock function can save you a lot of time. If I want to contact a client, but I’m not sure what time it is in their country, instead of manually looking up the time or trying to rely on my memory, I can just ask my smart speaker to tell me what time it is there.
If you’re in frequent contact with a particular overseas client, then you may become very familiar with their time zone, but if you’re ever unsure about their country’s rules regarding daylight savings time, smart speakers could save you a lot of hassle. For example, most people don’t realise that the European and American daylight savings times start a week apart in the spring, and in some countries like Mexico, not all states observe day light savings time (notably Quintana Roo doesn’t).
These are the main smart speaker functionalities that I use, but some of my friends and colleagues have told me about the following functionalities they find equally useful.
6. Making calls
If you have to call clients frequently, calling through your smart speaker can be a more ergonomic solution. You don’t need to be sat in one position for a long period of time, nor do you need to hold a phone to your ear throughout the call. Smart speakers also make the whole calling process easier, as you can initiate and terminate your calls using voice commands.
Note that announcements only work if you have more than one smart speaker.
If you work at home with your partner or with a housemate, making an announcement can be a non-intrusive way of communicating with one another during working hours. Let’s say you are going to leave the house to do some exercise or go to the shop, you can simply make an announcement that will be played on all of your smart speakers at once, thus informing everyone that you will be going out. This way you don’t have to interrupt the other person if you’re not sure if they’re busy or not.
You may think that this may be rather distracting if you’re on the receiving end of the announcement, but if you are busy, you can simply silence your smart speaker so you don’t receive the audio announcement, but you will receive a push notification on your smart phone which you can later check when you’re less occupied.