If you’ve got an Echo smart speaker sitting on your kitchen counter and all you’ve used it for so far is to set an egg timer, play some music, and maybe enjoy the occasional “pull my finger” joke, you’re missing out.
Alexa, the virtual assistant built into Echo devices and other speakers (and a thermostat), is a powerful tool, one that can help your household run more smoothly, remind you to take out the trash, and attempt to entertain you — among many other things. All you need to do is set up a few Routines, and Amazon’s digital butler will take care of things for you.
An Alexa Routine is a shortcut for all the things — or “actions” — Alexa can do. A Routine can perform one or multiple actions, from playing your favorite Spotify playlist at the same time each day to running a complicated Good Morning Routine that kicks off a cacophony of actions.
My Good Morning Routine gradually brightens the lights in my entire house, opens the shades, adjusts the thermostat, tells me the weather, traffic on the school run, and my calendar for the day, and turns the kettle on. It also starts my favorite radio station on every speaker in the house.
A Routine can be triggered to run in several ways: say “Alexa, Good Morning” to your Echo Show to trigger a Good Morning Routine or have it set to go off every morning at 8AM or when you dismiss your alarm on your Echo Dot with Clock.
I have mine set to start on my Echo speaker when the sensor by my bed detects motion between 6AM and 7AM on weekdays and 7AM and 9AM on weekends. Other smart devices can set off Routines, too, such as locking a smart door lock or when someone presses your video doorbell. Routines can also run based on your location, like when you leave or arrive somewhere.
First, here’s the basic step-by-step guide to how to set up an Alexa Routine, and then I’ll go into more detail about the different triggers and actions you can use in your Routine.
How to set up an Alexa Routine:
- Open the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Select More from the bottom navigation panel.
- Tap Routines from the menu.
- Tap the Plus icon in the top-right corner.
- Enter a name for the Routine and tap Next.
- Choose what will be used to trigger the Routine (see below for some options), and tap Next.
- Choose the actions you want Alexa to take (see below for more on these), and tap Next.
- Choose which Echo device the Routine will play from (if it has a sound component such as music or an announcement or if it will be triggered by voice).
- Tap Save and your Routine will appear in the list of Routines.
- You can go into the Routine from this list to change it, disable it, or start it manually by tapping the Play button next to it.
Pro tip: if you want to create multiple Routines that do the same thing only with a different trigger or from a different device, select the Routine from the main Routines page, tap the three-dot menu button in the top right-hand corner of the Edit Routine page, and select Copy Actions to New Routine.
What triggers can you use to start an Alexa Routine?
To start a Routine, you need a trigger — something that tells Alexa that when this happens, you want the Routine to run. There are multiple ways to activate a Routine; some are totally hands-free — such as time and location. Others involve an interaction, such as a voice command or your dog barking. Here’s a look at some of the most common triggers:
Voice: Ask Alexa to start the Routine. Create a Snack Time Routine that pauses your Fire TV and turns on the lights in the kitchen when you say “Alexa, Snack Time.” Or a bedtime Routine that turns out the lights, locks the door, adjusts the thermostat, and starts playing sleep sounds when you say, “Alexa, it’s Bedtime.”
Time of day (schedule): Routines can trigger at a set time. Have the lights turn off automatically at sunrise and then on an hour after sunset. A dinnertime Routine that shuts off the Wi-Fi at 6:30PM is an effective way to get everyone to the dinner table.
Smart home: Smart home devices, including sensors, cameras, and the status of a device (locked or unlocked, for example) can trigger Routines. If a motion sensor detects movement in the hallway between 11PM and 6AM, have the lights turn on low; if the door is left unlocked after 10PM, lock it.
Location: Using the Alexa app on your smartphone, Alexa can know when you arrive or leave your house. This is good for a Welcome Home or I’m Leaving Routine that adjusts your smart thermostat, turns on your lights, and starts playing music when you come home, then does the reverse when you leave. You can also have your robot vacuum start cleaning when you leave and stop when you return.
Alarm: A Good Morning Routine can play when you stop the alarm.
Sound: The sound of water running, a person coughing or snoring, a dog barking, a baby crying, and a beeping appliance are all sound triggers for Routines. Have a Good Morning Routine start when you turn the shower on in the bathroom or set a Routine that sends an app notification if Alexa hears your dog barking and starts playing soothing music.
What actions can you add to an Alexa Routine?
There are almost 30 different categories of actions you can add to a Routine, totaling hundreds, if not thousands, of actions you can trigger. You can also add multiple actions to a Routine. These include:
- Smart home: Activate smart home devices such as lights, robot vacuums, smart fans or shades, and a door lock.
- Alexa Says: Have Alexa say anything you want.
- Audible: Have Alexa read an Audible book.
- Calendar: Announce your next event or your calendar for the day or for tomorrow.
- Television: Control a Fire TV.
- Music or podcasts: Start playing a playlist, song, or podcast.
- Skill: Activate any linked Alexa skill.
Once you’ve selected your actions, you can arrange them in the order you want them to run by holding and dragging them on the Edit Routine page. You can also add a Wait command of up to four hours between actions.
Alexa Routines have a lot of potential and options for customizations. If you can think of it, Alexa can probably do it for you. But if you don’t know where to start, Amazon supplies a few premade Routines (or featured Routines) in the Alexa app to get you going. Looking through these can also give you inspiration on how to set up your own Routines. And once you start, it’s hard to stop! I have over 45 Routines set up to run in my home.