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Alexa routines may feel overwhelming, but these shortcuts make them a breeze

Avoid wading through complex menus and confusing lists to program custom commands on your Amazon Echo devices. Here are the quickest, easiest alternatives.

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Although still not exactly child's play, Amazons new and improved ways of implementing Alexa routines are vastly easier to deal with than they were previously.

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Admit it. You're curious about Alexa routines. Maybe your friends or family sometimes show off their own home-brewed Alexa automations, but every time you try to concoct your own script of smart home sorcery, it blows up in your face. The unfortunate and unspoken reality is that smart home routines can be cumbersome and frustrating to set up, so most people choose to live without them.

That's unfortunate, because routines are the pixie dust that can impart your smart home set-up with magic. Imagine a morning routine that can turn on the lights, play energizing music and start your coffee pot -- and all you have to say is, "Alexa, good morning." Or picture a quiet evening, you say, "Alexa, goodnight," and suddenly your room goes dark and white noise or a podcast comes on to help you fall asleep. Wouldn't that be spectacular?

Routines may look intimidating, but that could be why there are so many, you could say, "cheat codes." Setting up a routine doesn't have to be any harder than simply typing in a command

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What if setting up an Alexa routine was no more trouble than, say, typing in a command? Or as effortless as scanning a QR code or clicking a link? You're in luck, because in the last few months Amazon has created four easy options for setting up Alexa routines. We'll take a look at them all, starting with one that was already easy, but we made it even easier for you.

Easiest: Follow these links for Alexa routine templates

There's simple -- and then there's simplest. Setting up an Alexa routine doesn't get easier than this. In a blog post last fall announcing sharable Alexa routines (check out the next tip on the list for all the details), Amazon didn't just tell us how to share routines with your friends and family -- it shared some of its own. 

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Now you can create routines in the Alexa app using the same commands you'd normally speak to to the digital voice assistant.

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You can click over to the Amazon blog and follow the links over there if you want. (If you're using a desktop or laptop computer, you'll have to scan the associated QR codes with your phone to open the links in the Alexa app.) But if you're already reading this on a phone, just keep reading -- we collected them all here.

Tap any of these links and your Alexa app should open automatically -- then tap View Routine to edit and enable the routine. Beyond that, the most you might have to do is choose which device (smart light, Amazon Echo device and so on) will work with the routine. That's it.

  • Family routine -- This is a good one if your mornings involve rousing little ones from their slumber and getting everyone motivated to tackle the day. You'll get inspirational messages, upbeat music, the day's weather report and tons of other fun stuff scattered throughout the day. After you tap Save in the upper right corner, say, "Alexa, family routine" to get it started.
  • Fitness day routine -- If you like to start the morning with some exercise but maybe still need a bit of nudging to keep it going throughout the day, this routine's for you. Say, "Alexa, start my fitness day."
  • Headspace routine -- For current Headspace guided meditation users (or if anyone who'd like to try it), this routine will set the scene by dimming the lights, turning devices on "do not disturb" and picking up right where you last left off last time you meditated. "Alexa, get some Headspace."
  • NPR routine -- Just what it sounds like. If you like to start your day with NPR news, this routine is triggered when your morning alarm is dismissed -- you don't have to say or do anything else.
  • History Channel routine -- Similar to the NPR routine, but for This Day in History. Trigger by saying "Alexa, good morning."
  • iHeartRadio routine -- Ditto, the previous two, but for Stuff You Should Know. Triggers when you dismiss the alarm.
  • Focus time routine -- 30 minute of uninterrupted classical music to help you zero in on school, work or another project. "Alexa, start focus time."
  • Screen time routine -- Starts an hour-long countdown to help keep your screen time under control. "Alexa, start screen time."
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Amazon made it easier to share routines directly with other Alexa users.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Easy: Finesse routines away from your friends and family

Outsourcing is the oldest productivity hack in the book, and now you can do it with routines. Start by asking your bff, old college buddy, uncle, dad, teenage sibling or anyone else you know with Alexa what their favorite routines are and, when you hear one you think you'd like, have them do this:

1. Open the Alexa app.

2. Tap More in the lower left corner.

3. Tap Routines (fifth from the top).

4. Tap the routine to be shared.

5. Tap the More icon (three stacked dots) in the upper right corner.

6. Tap Share Routine.

7. Tap Continue to acknowledge that you may be sharing personal information with whomever you send a routine to.

8. Share as you would any other link.

From there, the recipient need only tap the link they received, which will open up the routine in their own Alexa app, where you can then save it.

Also easy: Scroll Featured Routines in the Alexa App

As you might imagine (although it's surprisingly easy to overlook), there are some boilerplate routines available from within the Alexa app. Setting them up basically works just like the above-mentioned methods, only instead of clicking links you'll want to navigate right to the list in the app. Here's how:

1. Open the Alexa app.

2. Tap More in the lower left corner.

3. Tap Routines (fifth from the top).

4. Tap Featured in the upper right.

5. Choose which routine template you'd like to install, tap it, edit it if you need to.

6. Tap Enable in the upper right corner.

Easy-ish: Add a custom action to an Alexa routine

If none of the aforementioned routine templates strike your fancy -- or if some do but you'd really like to get down to the business of inventing your own -- rather than navigate through all the messy, tiered menus with sections like Schedule, Smart Home, Location or Alarms, just tell Alexa what you want it to do, using the exact same words you'd say with a voice command, only instead of saying them out loud, you're going to type them. 

One caveat: For each Alexa routine, you can only add one custom action, and it has to be the last action Alexa performs in the sequence. That means if you're using this shortcut to save yourself the time it takes to dig through the aforementioned menus to do it the "right" way, you may want to suffer that tedium and save this wild card for when you really need it.

1. Open the Alexa app.

2. Tap More in the lower left corner.

3. Tap Routines (fifth from the top).

4. Tap the plus sign (+) in the upper right corner.

5. Name your routine, then tap Next

6. Tap When this happens.

7. Tap Voice in the upper right corner.

8. Type the trigger phrase you'd like to say to start this routine.

9. Tap Add action then tap Custom.

10. Type exactly what you'd say to Alexa ("turn on kitchen lights," "play Nickleback," "make fart noises," and so on), then tap Next.

11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 as many times as necessary to create your routine.

12. Tap Save in the upper right corner, then choose which device you'd like Alexa to respond from (pro tip: nine times out of 10 you should choose The device you speak to).

That's it. That's literally all you need to do to make just about any Alexa routine you could imagine. Now, go forth and build your routines, never again fretting that these custom Alexa commands are too much trouble to mess with.