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 17 different actions in the Alexa app and almost as many posts online, which are missing some of the newer features. No worries, this post is up to date!

Please note, some of the newer features listed here are initially only available in the US. If you are outside of US 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:

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.).

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 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 based Alexa Routines 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.

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.

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.

Alexa Guard 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”.

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Which Actions can Alexa perform in an Alexa Routine?

Alexa can perform 17 different actions within an Alexa Routine. We can add multiple actions to the same routine. Some limitations apply where noted below.

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.

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?”

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?”.

We can change our Echos device settings: We can set the volume 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.

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”

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

We can activate/set the Guard to “Away” Mode. 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”

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).

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

Music allows us to play a certain song, album, artist, genre or playlist, on shuffle and/or repeat, from a selected music service, for a specific period of time on all or specific Echo devices or music groups.

Please note, we can only add one music action to a routine and it has to be the last action in the list. Music and skills actions are mutually exclusive.

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”.

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. Skills and music actions are mutually exclusive.

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).

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

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

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.

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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 burger menu at the top left. 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

  9. Tap on ‘Save’ at the top right

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

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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.

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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