It can be tough to stay motivated, but Alexa and Google Assistant are here to help
As the end of December gets closer, and 2020 approaches, may of us start to think about our resolutions for the new year (and decade) ahead.
Often, these promises to better ourselves include getting up earlier, eating healthier, drinking more water and exercising. They are all simple and obvious enough, but time and again we struggle to stick to our plans, falling short of the lofty ambitions we set ourselves.
First, it's best to have fewer resolutions than many. That way, we can focus on just one or two core life changes at first. Then, if by March or April we have conquered those, we can consider moving onto something new, safe in the knowledge that the first resolutions have become habit.
Time management and willpower are key to success, but so too is remembering to act on your new resolution in the first place. It's often all too easy to blindly work through the entire day, then simply forget to drink enough water, or head out to the gym for an hour.
Thankfully, smart speakers like those from Amazon and Google are here to help. More specifically, their voice assistants can be turned into life coaches to help you bring your A-game to 2020.
Routines to wake up earlier
This resolution, and your ability to keep it, is going to depend on your work and family commitments, but waking up earlier can feel great. That extra 30 or 60 minutes each morning can be used to prepare for the day ahead while others are asleep, or use the time to invest in yourself with meditation, reading or exercise.
You could set a simple alarm, but those are always far too easy to switch off and ignore. Instead, we recommend creating a routine with either Alexa or Google Assistant, which wakes you up and (this is the important bit) keeps you awake.
You can do this by setting smart lights to crank up to maximum brightness (we find the Concentrate setting on Philips Hue to be particularly good), or by having your voice assistant read out the news headlines and weather forecast, then hand over to your radio station or playlist of choice.
Reminders to take screen breaks and drink water
Alexa can remind you to drink more water, and go to the gym Getty Images/iStockphoto
This may sound obvious, but the key to nailing your new year routines is remembering to do them. It's often easy to let the day slip by and forget to drink water or head to the gym, so it's time to set up some reminders with your voice assistant and smart speaker.
Setting reminders with voice assistants is easy. You can either jump into the Alexa or Google Assistant apps, or just tell your smart speaker what you want it to remind you of, and when.
For example, say: "Alexa, remind me to drink more water at 10am." You can then have this reminder repeat itself every day, then set several more to go off through each day if you feel you need them.
For Google Assistant, say: "Hey Google, remind me to drink more water at 10am."
Unfortunately, neither system can remind you to do something on just two or three days per week, so you can't have Alexa nudge you to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example. Instead, you'll have to set three separate reminders for those days, then have them repeat weekly. It's the same for Google Assistant.
As well as drinking water, we recommend setting reminders for taking screen breaks, where you look away from your computer and smartphone for a few minutes, giving your eyes a break. Of course, going and refilling your water bottle has the same effect.
Low-calorie recipes with step-by-step instructions
The Nest Hub makes a useful cooking assistantGoogle
Smart displays from Amazon and Google Nest can both be used to show cooking recipes. Place either an Echo Show or Nest Hub on your kitchen work surface, then ask Alexa or Google Assistant to show you a recipe.
Google's recipes come from a range of sources, but are all shown using a unified system created by Google. On the other hand, Amazon Echo Show displays get their recipes from various 'skills' made by different developers and recipe publishers.
To access these, you'll first need to find the relevant skill and enable it in the Alexa app, or on the Amazon website. Examples of recipe Alexa skills include SideChef in the U.S. and BBC Good Food in the UK. Between them, these skills and others offer thousands of recipes.
Navigating through the recipes on both devices is as simple as asking, and there's no need to touch the display with your hands while cooking; voice commands are all you need.
Both assistants can help you convert measurements and set timers — useful skills to have in any kitchen.
Taking things a step further, Google Assistant is smart enough to provide answers to questions like "Can I replace baking soda with baking powder?"
Shopping lists to eat healthier
Creating lists is a baked-in function of both Alexa and Google Assistant. These lists can each be named and added to or deleted with voice commands. You can then have your assistant read out a list on command.
With this feature, you can easily create a shopping list of healthy food whenever an ingredient or recipe crosses your mind. Just ask the voice butler to add the item to your shopping list, and it'll stay there until you look it up at the grocery store.
Exercise with HIIT classes
Alexa and Google Assistant have a range of free meditation apps Getty Images
We mentioned the gym earlier, but if you haven't the time or budget to visit one, you can always use technology to exercise at home.
Both Alexa and Google Assistant have access to a range of fitness apps and services, with plenty of free HIIT options available. HIIT stands for high intensity interval training, and it's the kind of exercise that lends itself perfectly to smart speakers. This is because the instructions are simple to follow, and all you really need is a voice telling you want to do, then counting down until you switch to the next exercise.
Equipment and weights usually aren't required for HIIT classes, as the exercises use your body weight instead.
Highly rated Alexa skills for exercise include Tabata Workout, The Body Coach, and Five Minute Workout: Core and Cardio.
Alternatives for Google Assistant include My Fit Tracker, Gym Partner, and Home Workout.
Meditate with Headspace
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and in 2020 you can help keep on top form with a range of meditation apps for Alexa and Google Assistant. One of the best and most popular is Headspace, which is free and available for both platforms.
Other options include Guided Meditation and Mindful Meditation for Alexa, and Meditation Guide and Calm, which are both available for Google Assistant.
These are all free to use, and are ideally suited to smart speakers, as they encourage users to close their eyes and listen to the guided breathing instructions.
A popular resolution is to learn something new and broaden your horizons. For this, podcasts can be brilliant. No matter what topic you want to learn more about, you can guarantee there will be a podcast for you. Whether it is health and fitness, food, gardening, watches, art or sport, there will be a collection of podcasts hosted by experts in the field to get stuck into.
Thankfully, Apple and Spotify have recently updated their vast podcast catalogues so that they work natively with Alexa. Once set up, you can simply ask the assistant to start a podcast from your collection, or carry on from where you left off. You can listen to the same vast catalogues of podcasts on Google and Nest smart speakers and display, too.