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When the Amazon Echo first came out I was one of the early adopters. As a loyal Amazon customer since 2006, I’ve probably spent tens of thousands of dollars on anything that I didn’t want to leave the house for and more. My friend commented the other day, “Dude, everything you have in your home is from Amazon.” He knows because his place is also 99% full of stuff of the highest reviewed items on Amazon.

One day I got an email from them that they announced the Echo. As an amateur home automation geek, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. My personal productivity has reached a stage of diminishing returns but when it comes to my Lifestyle Productivity there’s still a lot of big wins left.

I’ve never talked much about lifestyle productivity but I see it as the intersection of personal systems meets day-to-day living. It’s the next level of productivity once you’ve maxed how productive you can be on your own.

The way I define “personal productivity” is anything that directly impacts my own effectiveness and efficiency to get faster to my goals. This could be anything from solar flaring to having a morning ritual to having the belief that anything can be figured out. In other words, it’s what you control to achieve peak performance.

The ideal vision of lifestyle productivity is where your life is easy and convenient. You have resources and systems in place surrounding you that makes it inevitable to be happy and productive. It’s not about tactics or strategies to be productive. It’s about designing your life in a way that you can’t help but be productive – it’s the environment shaping you. This would include things like:

  • The city and country you live in
  • The career you have
  • The partner you spend time with
  • The arrangement of everything in your house
  • The personal systems you have built
  • The resources and systems you’re surrounded with

A very simple example of this is living in a city you love, based in a location where you don’t need to sit in traffic for 2 hours a day and you have an amazing partner that makes you a better person. On top of that, you have a career that aligns perfectly with who you are and you have crafted systems in your life so it’s easy to live life. Your groceries are automatically delivered to you, you have a personal assistant to take care of all the little things in life, and an Amazon Echo to make everything hands and carefree.

And today I want to show you how the Amazon Echo has made my life more #AsianEfficient.

Don’t think of the Echo as just a fun gadget. It is in a way but treat it as a Lifestyle Productivity system that’s going to make your life easier and more productive. Once you view it like that you’ll see how much utility value you get out of it and how it becomes the new norm of living productively.

(I’ll write more about lifestyle productivity in another future post.)

If you have an Echo, you probably have searched for commands and tricks like most of us. Here’s a list of links for that. I don’t want this post to be just a random collection of commands that are fun and useful.

What I want to show you is how to incorporate those into your life and make them part of a system that empowers you and makes you more productive. Here are 9 ways the Amazon Echo makes me more Asian Efficient.

1. No more manual re-ordering of supplements, pantry or anything else.

Pantry jars of chia seeds, and brown sugar

I have a personal assistant that comes to my place once a week. She’s my secret weapon because she frees up a lot of time and mental energy for me to be the best CEO I can be (and the one Asian Efficiency needs).

Here’s a short list of things she regularly does for me:

  • Refill my supplement tray (labeled Mon-Sun)
  • Steam my clothes to get rid of wrinkles and folds them
  • Laundry
  • Pick up my packages and get my snail mail
  • Run errands for me (post office, pharmacy, etc.)
  • Order groceries for me
  • Communicate with the building management to replace light bulbs, air filters, equipment malfunction, etc

And a whole lot more. She alone frees up a lot of time but we had one bottleneck. Anytime I ran out of supplements such as multivitamins or fish oils, she would tell me and I’d have to order it.

My initial solution was to give her a prepaid credit card so she can just order it for me but then I realized that the Echo can order stuff for you. Since 99% of everything I have comes from Amazon, this was perfect.

Now anytime she needs to order anything for me, she just goes “Alexa, order fish oils” and the Echo will go through my purchase history to find it. Once she finds it, she’ll ask for confirmation and it’s shipped.

It wasn’t until recently that you could only order stuff that you’ve bought before. That has changed and it has made her life a little easier too. For example, one day she forgot to bring her stool and I didn’t have one. In the past 2 years, this has happened maybe four or five times. Knowing the 3 Times Rule, I said let’s just order one and have one here permanently. She ordered one via the Echo and it was here the next day.

2. I ask for my calendar details every morning as part of my morning ritual

Part of my morning ritual is to check my calendar so I know what’s ahead of me and I can mentally prepare how my ideal day should look like.

In the past, I would look on my iPhone or on my computer for this. Now I just say “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” and she’ll tell me. It has removed one extra step for me and one blackhole because sometimes when I check the calendar on my phone I might see a SMS or notification that could derail me.

As someone who is a high Follow-Thru on the Kolbe test, I have a hard time keeping open loops. Once I see an open loop, I feel a very strong need for closure (that’s what a person with high Follow-Thru on the Kolbe test indicates). If I see I have 2 unread text messages, I have to check them.

Unlike email apps, there are no pull notifications for text messages. By using the Echo as part of my morning ritual to check my schedule I’ve eliminated a lot of instances where I might have been derailed.

3. Resume audiobooks as part of evening ritual

During my evening ritual, I also ask what my calendar looks like for the next day so I have a rough idea what to expect. I’ll repeat it again in the morning so I can visualize how my ideal will look like.

Another thing I do at night is to resume audiobooks during my evening ritual. One of the steps I have is to foam roll and stretch my body before I go to sleep because it helps me relax and get better quality sleep.

As I roll out my yoga mat, I’ll say “Alexa, resume audiobook” and it’ll continue where it left off on my last audiobook.

What’s great about this is that it’s done via Audible and I listen to Audible a lot on my phone. I might have finished chapter 3 of a book on my iPhone and when I resume it on the Echo, it’ll pick up where I was last (in this example it would start on chapter 4). This makes it very easy to consume a lot of audiobooks – faster.

In the past, I would only listen to audiobooks on my walks and hikes and average maybe 1–2 audiobooks a month. Since the Echo, I’ve been able to double that.

Pro tip: don’t listen to highly technical audiobooks at night. Books that cover tactics, neuroscience or very practical things are not very good to consume at night. They will activate your brain to start solving problems or process a lot which is not what you want at night. The perfect books are stories, biographies or very high-level, abstract thinking books.

You don’t have to limit this to an evening ritual. We usually don’t recommend multitasking but in this example, you can also listen to audiobooks while you’re cooking or cleaning the house.

4. Ask what time it is while in bed

Retro black alarm clock

One of the biggest annoyances in my life was checking my phone while I was in bed. A lot of times I’ll lay in bed and I’ll want to sleep more but I also want to know what time it is (just so I don’t oversleep and I have a rough idea how much longer I can sleep).

In the past I would rollover, stretch my arm and grab my phone to check the time. As soon as I checked my phone, the light of the screen would wake me up and all the notifications would urge me to check it. As I said earlier, according to the Kolbe test I’m high on Follow-Thru which means that I have a strong need to close open loops. If I know I need to check notifications in my head, I’d rather do it now than later when I forget.

Now you might think, why not just get an alarm clock? To me, an alarm clock has no utility value and it goes against my minimalist luxury lifestyle. It’s just a device that takes up space and has no other value than to display the time.

Luckily, that’s where the Echo saved my mornings and my sleep. When I’m in bed and I want to know the time, I’ll scream “Alexa what’s the time?” and she’ll tell me. Based on the time, I’ll either continue to sleep or I’ll know I need to wake up soon.

No more phone. No more notifications. No more open loops.

It has made me a much happier person waking up.

5. Turn on Hue lights to be extra lazy

To continue my laziness, I also integrated the Echo with my Philips Hue lights. If you’re not familiar with them, they are WiFi-enabled lightbulbs that you can control with your smartphone. They can change colors and you can hook them up to the Echo, IFTTT and many more platforms.

I can say “Alexa turn on the bedroom lights” and she’ll flip them on. It’s pretty amazing when you see it the first time.

But it’s also extremely convenient for lazy people like myself. I do this all the time while I’m in bed. A really common scenario is when I try to read a book at night. I don’t want to leave my warm, cozy bed to turn flip the light switch so now I use the Echo to do that. Another scenario is when I try to charge my iPhone but I can’t connect the cable to my phone in the dark. “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights” and voila now I can charge my phone. Three seconds later, “Alexa turn off bedroom lights” and I’m off to sleep.

6. My Hands-Free Cooking Assistant

“Alexa, set a timer for 7 minutes” is my most used phrase. Guess what I use it for?

It’s the perfect time to cook soft boiled eggs.

The Echo is amazing for being a hands-free cooking assistant. You no longer need to set timers with your dirty hands on your phone or use an old-fashion egg timer. Just tell Alexa to do it and the beauty is that she can run multiple timers. That’s really useful when you have stuff in the oven, on the grill and are waiting for something to cool down all at once.

The timer can of course be used for other scenarios as well such as timeboxing. It can be your expensive Pomodoro Timer. I use it all the time for that too whenever I’m lazy and I need to force myself to do something. “Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes” and off I go.

7. Alexa, my instant motivation generator

Man on his sofa listening to music with a smartphone

We’ve covered on the blog multiple times here and here how powerful music is for your mood and motivation. Check those links for our recommended music playlists and type of music.

Whenever I play one of them, I instantly feel pumped to get work done. It almost acts like an anchor for feeling a certain way.

Spotify is my favorite music library and you can set it as your default music source for the Echo. Then you can use the default music commands to play your music in Spotify.

After my morning meditation, I’ll say “Alexa play Skyworld playlist” and it’ll play it. It’s now also one of my favorite things to do as part of my morning ritual to get motivated to start the day.

In the afternoons, whenever I’m in a little bit of a funk, I do the one-two punch combo: set a timer for 25 minutes and play an upbeat playlist.

It’s also not uncommon for me to say “Alexa increase the volume by 100%” to give it some extra oomph.

8. The Only Other Time to Multitask

Earlier I mentioned how I listen to audiobooks as part of my winding down routine. We usually don’t advocate multitasking at Asian Efficiency but another time to do it is when you’re listening to podcasts. I find the quality of content of podcasts to be lower than of audiobooks. It’s entertainment first, content second.

(BTW, if you haven’t checked out our podcast yet…what are you waiting for? 2 million people can’t be wrong. Check it out here.)

That’s why I usually play podcasts when I do very mundane work around the home. It’s for times when…

  • I open all my snail mail from the week and sift through everything
  • Clean stuff around the home
  • Tidy up my home and rearrange stuff
  • When I’m shaving (seriously, this is the best way to make shaving somewhat have an ROI in my head)

The only downside right now is that the Echo doesn’t integrate natively with podcasts. Yes, you can listen to podcasts via TuneIn but who really uses that? If you’re like me, all of your podcasts live on your phone. That’s why you have to connect your phone to the Echo via Bluetooth so it acts like an external speaker.

9. The Savior for High Fact Finders and High Follow-Thru

When I took the Kolbe test, besides knowing I’m high on Follow-Thru, I also learned that I’m a high Fact Finder. This simply means that I like to gather a lot of information and know everything before I take action. I’m the type of person that preplans a whole vacation up the minute and likes to know what’s coming up. It has driven a lot of ex-girlfriends crazy and I never understood why. Then I realized, after taking the Kolbe test and studying it, why it drove them crazy: they were very low fact finders.

They were “go with the flow” and “just be present” types of people. They just wanted to show up for vacation and whatever happens, happens. They didn’t want a lot of information upfront to experience something or to take action.

If you’re also a high Fact Finder and Follow-Thru like me (which naturally a lot of AE readers are), then you’ll love the Echo even more. Think of it as Siri at your command with better results. If there’s something you want to know, just ask her. I just looked at the Alexa app on my phone to see the last couple of questions I’ve asked her:

  • Alexa, how long is the flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo? (I’m planning a trip to Tokyo next year)
  • Alexa, where’s my order?
  • Alexa, how much is 197 times 355?
  • Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for next week?
  • Alexa, what’s 16 degrees celsius in fahrenheit?
  • Alexa, did the Lakers win?

It has minimized a lot of stress (closing open loops) and wondering. It’s the extra mental space I now use for more important thinking like what we need to do at Asian Efficiency, where I like to see myself in a couple years or what I’m going to have for dinner ;)


When you first see the Amazon Echo, you think it’s a cool toy. That’s what I thought too. Now that I’ve had it for so long though and seen the Lifestyle Productivity benefits, I can’t see myself living without it. It has made my life so much easier and much more productive.

If you just use it for random commands then it’s an expensive and fun toy. But…if you’re willing to integrate it as a Lifestyle Productivity system in your life then it comes indispensable and a productivity booster.

The biggest benefit of the Echo is it kills the need to check your phone. Just think of everything you “just check on your phone” and you’ll see that the Echo can do it too without the possible trap of getting distracted by notifications or email.

As of now, the Echo is only available in a select number of countries but if you can get one I would highly recommend it.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Would you still recommend Echo over Google Home? I was about to purchase Echo now but I just realized there is another product out there.

  2. Got an Echo as a gift over Christmas, so I’m hoping it can also make an important change with my productivity. So far, I’m most excited about introducing audiobooks to my routine.

  3. I used the Echo for some of the same things, but a few them don’t match up.

    For re-ordering things I use on a regularl bases, I use Amazon subscribe & save . It’s completely set and forget, and can net you a 15% savings on top of the time savings,

    For sleeping and the morning alarm, I use a sleep tracking application called Sleep Cycle along with a soothing sound generator app called Sleep Pillow.

    My Apple watch hangs out next to my bed in nightstand mode, and it lights up to show the time when there is any motion.

    The Echo doesn’t integrate with my Music, Podcast, or Task Manager, or Calerndar apps, so cannot use it for any of those things. Plus it’s speaker quality isn’t very good, so I prefer the Sonos wireless speakers for audio.

    I do like using the Echo for news in the morning while I’m cooking breakfast and lunch to bring to the office, and during my morning workout. Since it’s broadcasts stories from a number of different sources, a popular story is usually repeated several times, the record for me is for the Echo to repeat the same story 6 times in a row. And it may repeat a story for an entire week!

    For that I wish they had a news story ID system that the Echo could then use to tell if it has already covered a particular story, and thereby avoid repeating it.

  4. Nice article & ideas on Echo.

    My lifestyle and daily routine is such that in order to make Echo play a role in my productivity, I would need to have it with me all the time – home, gym, driving, my day job, etc. If I wanna live minimalist, I don’t want to buy another device let alone multiple of them.

    BTW, I don’t use any alarm clock or clock for that matter. I use Fitbit for my wake up calls and checking time! 😊

  5. Wow! what an effective post I got here. Thanks for sharing your experience about Amazon Echo… Now this is my turn to try this.
    This post is really interesting and tastes something different. Not like the others at all.
    Thanks again, Thanh. I’ve already printed out this post and tag it on my desk with glue.

  6. I have the echo dot here in the UK, and love it(I plan to buy more). Two holes productivity-wise for me:
    – no omnifocus integration without some faffing (the IFTTT channel isn’t available in the U.K. yet)
    – my favourite shopping list app (Bring!) hasn’t got shopping list integration, but that is coming.

    I have plans for getting them for my children as they are great distraction free tools which mean there is less need for a phone/tablet in their rooms.

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