Alexa Routines: How to Automate your Life with your Amazon Echo

If there is one area, where Alexa continuously and rapidly learns new tricks, it’s Alexa Routines. Years ago we found only a handful of actions in our Alexa app and could initially not even automate our music. Nowadays, we can already find 23(!) different actions in the Alexa app.

BIG THANK YOU goes to all of you who take the time and share their Alexa Routines experiences, questions and answers in our discussion section! We are continuously updating this post based on your feedback.

Please note, some of the newer features listed here are initially only available in the U.S. We will indicate this with a little flag 🇺🇸 (Thanks, Brantome!)
If you are outside of U.S. and can’t find some of the actions in your Alexa app, please hang in, it usually takes some time until the features become available worldwide.

What are Alexa Routines?

Alexa Routines are as easy as: When ‘something’ happens, Alexa will perform one or more ‘actions’.

Now, ‘something’ and ‘actions’ could be many things. Before we look into the details, here’s Alexa, explaining her routines in the picture above, and some examples from our posts. You can pause the clip at around 1:25, more examples are listed below:

How-To Create Alexa Routines: Immersive Storytelling with Ambient Scenes and Sounds

What can Activate an Alexa Routine?

Currently, we have 7 options to activate an Alexa Routine:

Voice

A voice command, is just any ‘phrase’ which we can define in the Alexa app. As soon as we say “Alexa, ‘phrase'” she will run our Alexa Routine. Voice commands have to be unique and must not contain special characters (punctuation, numbers, etc.).


Schedule

A schedule can be any time of day, sunrise or sunset. Sunrise and sunset support a time offset of up +/- 60 minutes. All scheduled Alexa Routines can repeat every day, on all or specific weekdays or at weekends.


Smart Home

Smart home lists all “Works with Alexa” smart home sensors at your home. As of now, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue and Sylvania Lightify sensors are supported. In our case – we are using Philips Hue – the sensors are listed, but currently do not trigger any routines.


Location

Location based Alexa Routines (U.S. only 🇺🇸) can be activated, when we – or more precisely, our smartphone with the installed Alexa app – reaches our home or work location, or any address we specify. The radius can be set between 492 feet and 62.1 miles, so we can activate routines ahead of getting home (e.g. turn on the heating, so it’s warm when we arrive). We can set home, work and other locations in the Alexa app under Menu / Settings / Your Locations.


Alarms

When we dismiss an Alarm. Alexa Routines work only, when the selected Echo Device is connected to WiFi and the internet. Alexa Alarms work also, when the Echo device is offline. Rather than creating Alexa good morning routines to replace our Alexa Alarms, it is best practice to use reliable Alexa (music) alarms and start our good morning routines, when we dismiss the alarm.


Echo Button

When we press an Echo Button. Initially, the Echo buttons were released as Alexa companion device for interactive voice games (100+ skills support the Echo button). Nowadays, we can create our own trivia games with Alexa Blueprints, and Echo Buttons can also activate our Alexa Routines. Up to 4 Buttons can be connected via Bluetooth to one Echo device.


Guard

Alexa Guard (U.S. only 🇺🇸) is a feature, which monitors our home when we are away. Alexa listens for the sound of alarms, or breaking glass and sends us a notification with the detected sound to our smartphone. Away Lighting can simulate that we are at home by automatically turning smart lights on and off. Alexa Guard can arm Ring and ADT security systems and forward security notifications to Ring or ADT services. Here we can trigger Alexa Routines when we set the Alexa Guard to ‘Home’ mode, usually by saying “Alexa, I’m home” or to ‘Away’ mode, by saying “Alexa, I’m leaving”.

Which Actions can Alexa perform in an Alexa Routine?

Alexa can perform 23 different actions within an Alexa Routine. We can add multiple actions to the same routine. Some limitations apply where noted below.

Alexa says

Alexa says something, which can either be a customized response we can define ourselves, or a prepared or random response to: encourage us to clean up, different good morning variations, phrases for birthdays, compliments, confirmations, good byes and greetings when we arrive at home. Alexa can sing a song, tell us a fun fact, and tell us a joke or a story.


Briefings

Give us a daily briefing (U.S. only 🇺🇸). We can select whether we’d like to hear a summary and highlights of our events and reminders or the highlights only.


Calling

Use calling controls. For this we need to link a carrier account in the communication section of the Alexa app.


Calendar

Read the calendar events of today or tomorrow, or just the next event. To activate this feature, we need to link a calendar account in the Alexa app, under Menu / Settings / “Calendar and email”. We can test the setting by asking: “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”


Date and Time

Alexa can tell us todays date or the current time according to the device settings time zone, which we can configure in the Alexa app under Menu / Settings / Device Settings / Echo name / Time Zone. We can ask: “Alexa, what’s the date?”, “Alexa, what’s the time?”.


Device Settings

We can change our Echos device settings: We can set the volume – currently only for the Echo the routine runs on – and stop audio playback on all or specific Echo devices. And we can activate “do not disturb” on all or specific Echo devices, for a certain duration or until a certain time.

Please note, “do not disturb” blocks notifications, such as calls and messages. It does not block alarms or timers.


Drop In Notification

Send a drop-in notification to the Alexa app (U.S. only 🇺🇸). When you tap on the notification on your phone you can select the Echo Device you’d like to drop-in.


E-mail

Alexa can read our e-mail summary. To activate this feature, we need to link an e-mail account in the Alexa app, under Menu / Settings / “Calendar and email”. We can test this with: “Alexa, read my e-mail”


Entertain Me

Entertain me (U.S. only 🇺🇸) entertains us on the go by asking us to pick between following commute skills:

  • Audible
  • Car Friendly Games
  • Songs
  • News

Please note, we can only add one Entertain me action to a routine and it has to be the last action in the list. The Entertain me, Fire TV – Play Content, Skills and Custom actions are mutually exclusive, we can only pick one of them.


Fire TV

Fire TV allows us to control our Fire TV devices in an Alexa Routine (Thanks a lot Brantome!). We can:

  • Power the TV on and off (for this we need to enable HDMI-CEC on the TV set)
  • Pause and Resume video on the Fire TV device
  • (Increase and decrease the TV’s volume)*
  • Navigate home on the Fire TV device
  • Play Content will power the TV on and play content or open an app, e.g. “Play The Crown on Netflix”

Please note, the Fire TV devices need to be linked under More / Settings / TV & Video / Fire TV. The available Fire TV actions*, depend on the type of your Fire TV device. We can only add one Fire TV – Play Content action to a routine and it has to be the last action in the list. The Fire TV – Play Content, Entertain me, Skills and Custom actions are mutually exclusive, we can only pick one of them.


Good News

Alexa can tell us one Amazon curated good news story per day (rather than the bad news we usually read throughout the day; U.S. only 🇺🇸). “Alexa, tell me good news”


Guard

We can activate/set the Guard to “Away” Mode (U.S. only 🇺🇸). According to our preferences, which we can set in the Alexa app under Menu / Settings / Guard, Alexa will monitor our home when we are away and listen for the sound of alarms, or breaking glass and turn on Away Lighting. “Alexa, I’m leaving”


IFTTT

We can trigger IFTTT applets with specific phrases. IFTTT, short for “If-This-Then-That”, is a cloud service which connects various devices and services through so-called ‘Applets’. When we create an applet with the Alexa trigger “Say a specific phrase“, we can activate it by saying “Alexa, trigger ‘phrase'”. These IFTTT applets can now be activated in Alexa Routines, by any of the 7 Alexa triggers above (voice, schedule, smart home, location, alarm, Echo button or Guard).


Messaging

With messaging, we can send notifications to the Alexa app on the smartphone or send announcements to all or specific Echo devices.


Music

Music allows us to play a certain song, album, artist, genre or playlist, from a selected music service, for a specific period of time.

Music playback will start on the Echo device you choose to run the routine from. If you have set a “preferred speaker” for the “smart home group” your Echo is in, music will play from your “preferred speaker” setup.

Pro-Tip: We can add “shuffle” or “repeat” and we can add “smart home groups” and “multi-room music groups” to the Alexa play music command, e.g. Play, “good stuff playlist shuffle downstairs” to shuffle the ‘good stuff’ playlist on the ‘downstairs’ group. (Thanks a lot Brantome!)

Please note, we can now add multiple music actions to a routine and they don’t have to be the last action in the list. Music and skills actions are no longer mutually exclusive, we can add both to a routine. (Thanks a lot Brantome!)

Bug-note: The timer on the play music action sometimes does not work if you’ve set up a preferred speaker. Please see our comments section for more information. (Thanks, Brantome!)


News

We can play news from the flash briefings in the order we have configured in the Alexa app under Menu / Settings / Flash Briefings. You can test the setting with: “Alexa, tell me the news”.


Skills

We can launch one of the 100,000+ Alexa Skills, and choose from our installed skills (the skills we’ve used) or a couple of popular skills.

Please note, we can only add one Skill action to a routine and it has to be the last action in the list. (Thanks, Brantome!)
The Skills, Fire TV – Play Content, Entertain me, and Custom actions are mutually exclusive, we can only pick one of them.


Smart Home

We can control individual smart home devices according to their supported features, turn on/off smart lights and change their brightness and colors. We can power on/off smart home groups (What are Alexa Groups?), and activate scenes (which set the configuration of multiple e.g. smart home lights). With the “ramp brightness” feature (U.S. only 🇺🇸), we can gradually change the brightness of our smart lights over time.


Sounds

Alexa can play a selection of sounds. From animals, to bells and buzzers, crowds, seasonal, Sci-fi and some miscellaneous sounds.


Traffic

Alexa will report traffic and commute time according to the location information we have entered under Menu / Settings / Traffic. You can test the setting with: “Alexa, how is traffic?”


Wait

Wait pauses a routine for a specified duration. We can pause a routine in 5 seconds steps for up to 4 hours.


Weather

Weather will provide us the weather information for the device location, which we can set in the Alexa app under Menu / Settings / Device Settings / Echo name / Device Location.


Custom

The Custom action (U.S. only 🇺🇸; Thanks, Brantome!) allows us to enter a custom phrase we would ask Alexa. We can preview the custom action to confirm that Alexa does what we intend, before adding it to the routine.

A good example of a custom action would be “Screen Off” at the end of your good night routine to turn the display of your Echo Show off. (Thanks Francisco!)

Please note, we can only add one Custom action to a routine and it has to be the last action in the list. The Custom, Fire TV – Play Content, Entertain me and Skills actions are mutually exclusive, we can only pick one of them.

Pro-Tip: We cannot run our own routines from a custom action. In some cases we can combine two commands with an “and”, but with limitations, as Alexa might come back with “I didn’t catch the other thing you said”.


How to Create an Alexa Routine?

The easiest way to create a simple Alexa Routine is with our voice:

  • Alexa, when I say (command), then (do something)
  • Alexa, when someone says (command), then (do something)

Alexa will come back with: “Great! I’ve created your Routine. When you say (command) then I will (do something). Change it anytime in the Routine Section of the Alexa app.”

But this is just the beginning, only one simple action. We can now edit this single action in the Alexa app and add as many additional actions as we like.

To create an Alexa Routine in the Alexa app:

  1. Open the Alexa app

  2. Go to the Menu and select ‘Routines’

    To open the menu, tap on the ‘More’ button at the bottom right. Tap on Routines to open the ‘Your Routines’ list.

  3. Tap on Plus (+)

    The Plus (+) at the top right creates a new routine.

  4. (Optional) Name your routine

    You can name your routine for better overview. This is especially helpful if you have created many routines.

  5. Select ‘When this happens’ and choose how/when to start your routine

    Select voice, schedule, smart home, location, alarm, Echo button or Guard to activate your Alexa Routine.

  6. Select Add action and choose the action(s) to perform

    Select any of the actions (Alexa says, calendar, date and time, device settings, e-mail, good news, guard, IFTTT, messaging, music, news, skills, smart home, sounds, traffic, wait or weather).

  7. (Optional) Adjust the action sequence

    To put actions into the correct order, tap and hold the 2 lines at the right and pull the action to its place.

  8. Select ‘From’ and the device which runs this routine

    You can select “the device you speak to” or a specific Echo Device to run your routine from. If you’d like to e.g. play music in a smart home group or multi-room music group, you need to add the group name to the “play music” command (see the Music Action Pro-Tip above).

  9. Tap on ‘Save’ at the top right

    It can take a minute to synchronize Alexa Routines to your devices.

How to Copy Alexa Routines

Sometimes it’s helpful to copy Alexa Routines, e.g. when we’d like to have the same Routine actions to run a couple of times per day, maybe with slight changes in the actions (different music, light scenes, etc.).

To copy your Alexa Routine:

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Tap on the “More” button and select Routines
  3. Tap on the Routine you’d like to copy
  4. Tap on the three little dots at the top right and select “Copy Actions to New Routine”
  5. Alexa will create a new routine with the same actions
  6. Add a new trigger (and Routine name).

How to Share Alexa Routines

Alexa App – Sharing Routines

With a brand new feature (U.S. only 🇺🇸) we can share our Alexa Routines with friends and family. Alexa can create a sharable URL and we can share this link via social media, messaging, e-mail or even create a QR code for it.

To share your Alexa Routine:

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Tap on the “More” button and select Routines
  3. Tap on the Routine you’d like to share
  4. Tap on the three little dots at the top right and select “Share Routine”
  5. You will see a little disclaimer that you should not share routines with private information as whoever imports your routine will see all your triggers, actions, custom phrases, etc. You also won’t be able to un-share your Routine, as the shared copy of your Routine will remain shareable though the URL.
  6. Tap on “Continue” and Alexa will generate the link and open the sharing menu on your smartphone.
  7. Select how you’d like to share your Routine-URL.

Check out Amazons blog post for 8 shared routines which you can either import by scanning the QR code or tapping on the link.

Alexa App – Importing Routines

How to Import Shared Alexa Routines

To import a shared Alexa Routine (U.S. only 🇺🇸):

  1. Tap on the Alexa Routine URL/link
  2. Your Alexa app will open and display “You received an Alexa Routine”
  3. Tap on “View Routine”
  4. If the routine contains controlling smart home devices, you’ll see an orange “Complete Setup” under the action. Tap on those actions and map them to your smart home devices.
  5. Choose the Echo device from where this routine should run
  6. Save the routine

Conclusion

Alexa Routines are the most exciting Alexa feature, as they allow us to create our personal, helpful voice assistant. They do require a good overview – which you’ve hopefully found in this post – a bit of creativity, and some time to create and test them. This time is well invested, if you use your Alexa Routines regularly.

The recently added features make it super easy to share our most useful Routines with friends and family, flexibly integrate music into our Routines and control our Fire TV devices.

Alexa Routines can automate and thereby simplify your life. Choose one trigger and activate many actions, Alexa is lending you many helping hands.

Happy Alexa Routines!

P.S. You can find more Alexa posts here: Amazon Alexa

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17 COMMENTS

  1. BIG Update: We have now an option to control Fire TV devices in our Alexa Routines, so – thanks to Brantome – we’re on 23 actions already!

    – Added Table of Contents for easier navigation
    – Updated the post date

  2. Fire tv has just appeared as a routine action, allowing you to play video content, turn on your tv, control volume etc . This is a big addition…

    • Wonderful, thank you! This is indeed a big thing! I have added the new action, and observed that:
      1. I am missing the volume control and this could depend on our old Fire TV stick (though it’s on the latest OS),
      2. the Fire TV Play Content Action currently only “searches” for content, it does not start the playback. Not sure if that’s a bug, but we’ll retest with a new Fire TV stick (Black Friday is coming 😉

      Thanks & Cheers!
      K.
      p.s. it seems UK started Black Friday a day earlier 😉 https://www.smartenlight.com/alexa-deals-amazon-co-uk/

  3. I would like to make my Echo show 8 turn it’s Screen off at the end of a routine. You can say it, and it does turn it’s Screen off but I could’nt find a way to include it in a routine script. Neither the skill maker nor IFTTT provide a way to do this. Is there a way to do it?

    • If you’re on Amazon.com, you can use the new “Custom” action with a “screen off” command at the end of your Alexa routine.

  4. “Custom” routine actions are starting to appear in the Alexa app for USA users , meaning you can add almost any Alexa request to a routine – unfortunately not yet in the UK 🙁
    Looks like you can only have one such action in a routine, and like the “skill” action (whose feature it potentially replaces), it has to be the last action

    • Wow, thank you!
      Yes, I can confirm the restrictions. I’ve added “Custom” – and also found a new “Entertain me” action – to the post.
      Thanks & Cheers!

  5. A query – in the USA, can you set the volume on a selection of echos or group using the devices/volume action, or is it still just for the device specified in the routine “from” drop down? It seems an obvious anomaly given you can select one or more devices to stop audio on.

    • Unfortunately, it is still only 1 volume slider which affects just the device specified in the routine “from” drop down. I have added a short remark to the Device Settings action. Agree, it would be great to be able to set the volume of all/multiple Echos with a routine, just like we can with voice commands and smart home and multi-room music groups (Oops, forgot this one in the music post, adding now …)

  6. Hi, good to see you’ve set this up as well as your Alexa music commands page.
    As you mention in your introduction, not all of these facilities are available outside the USA, so I thought I’d update you with what we in the UK don’t yet have (or have been waiting a long time for): Location or Alexa guard triggers; briefing, drop in notifications, good news nor guard actions. We also don’t have the ramp up options for lights that the USA have under smart home.
    I also just noticed this week that you can now have multiple play music options in a routine and they no longer need to be the last actions. And you can also include a skills action even if you have play music action(s), but that still needs to be the last one.
    It might also be useful to explain the function of the “from” drop down at the end of a routine, and how that ties in (or not) with the play music action when you wish to use a multi room music group given many people try to add a group via the drop down and can’t find it there…
    (One thing I did notice when I stumbled across being able to use multiple play music actions is that when using the timer duration option on a play music command and the echo the routine responds to or the one you’re asking is in a device group with a preferred speaker setting, the music continues to play after the timer on that preferred speaker (or group) while the following commands continue on the echo. The music does time out as required if a preferred speaker isn’t being used, in part because it’ll be cut off by any further responses. I’ve bug reported this to Amazon)

    Keep up the good work 🙂

      • Thank you! I have also set the “copy routine” feature as USA only feature, since I think it arrived together with the share/import feature. Hope that’s correct?

        • No, we can copy a routine ok, I think that came out a few weeks before the share option which we don’t have in the uk.

    • Hi Brantome,
      Thank you so much for your valuable feedback! I’ve now updated following parts:
      – Added an indicator which features are USA only
      – Updated the play music action to explain and link to “preferred speaker”, “smart home group” and “multi-room music groups”, which I have updated in the Alexa Music post to include links to the Amazon setup/howto pages. Added your Pro-Tip that we can add smart home and multi-music groups in the play music action.
      – Updated the play music and skill actions with your findings
      – Added the current restriction that with the device settings action we can only set the volume of the Echo the routine runs on.
      – Added a hint in the “How to create an Alexa Routine” pt. 8 / “from” how to deal with smart home groups / multi room music.
      I hope I’ve captured all your feedback!

      I tried to reproduce the bug you are experiencing with multiple music actions, but I guess it depends on the set of actions. I’ve tried it with:
      1. Play some music for 30 secs
      2. (Wait 30 secs)
      3. Play some other music for 30 secs
      4. Say a random phrase
      Both, with and without a preferred speaker setup. The music seems to always time out correctly in my case. Would be interesting to know how you trigger the bug, so we could add a note to the music action.

      Thank you for helping to make this post so much better!
      Always looking forward to your valuable feedback!

      Thanks & Cheers,
      K.

      • Hi, I’m still having the preferred speaker issue and have bug reported it to Amazon. I have a “living room” group which contains my gen 2 show and echo plus, as well as a Heos speaker linked thru its skill. I created a short routine with an Alexa says action, a play music action for 30 seconds, and finally a read the weather action. If I set the preferred speaker in the living room group to the heos speaker (or indeed another echo or multi room group), the music continues to play on that until I stop it, and the weather is read out on the echo I ask to run the routine. If I unset the preferred speaker setting, the music cuts out after 30secs when the weather report is read. If I get an update from Amazon, I’ll update you.

  7. Added “How to Copy Alexa Routines”, “How to Share Alexa Routines” and “How to Import Shared Alexa Routines”
    Updated post date.

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