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Alexa's cure for listlessness: How to make and manage lists with your Amazon Echo

Shopping lists, to-do lists, gift lists, you-name-it lists: Alexa makes list-making easy and, dare we say, fun.

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It's ridiculously easy to have Alexa add items to your grocery list the moment you think about them, especially in the kitchen when your hands are full.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I'm positively listless without lists -- pun fully intended. My brain has this weird idle mode where, barring further instruction, it will immediately dive into a rabbit hole that could end in watching a video on no-glue, no-screw Japanese wood joinery. (Seriously, it's hypnotic.) I need lists to function as an adult in society and, if the confessions of friends and family are to be believed, so do a lot of other people.

Back before mobile technology became ubiquitous and affordable, I carried a pocket notebook and a pen everywhere I'd go. Then along came smartphones and, with them, notepad apps. But then, one day, I learned how to make and manage lists with Alexa, and I've never looked back.

It's so much more intuitive to simply vocalize a grocery item I need while scanning the kitchen cupboards or to add an idea to my holiday gift list while I'm falling asleep without even opening my eyes. But what's even better is what I see when I open the Alexa app to peruse my lists -- while I was cleaning the kitchen or dreaming or whatever, Alexa was busy organizing my lists into categories.

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If ideas come to you as you're trying to fall asleep, add them to a list with Alexa without having to open up your phone.

Chris Monroe/CNET

It doesn't matter if I told Alexa to add "ice cream" in the morning, "apples" in the afternoon and "popsicles" and "bananas" in the evening. When I open my shopping list, both ice cream and popsicles are listed under "Frozen" foods, while apples and bananas are under "Produce." 

And that's the killer feature that makes list-making with Alexa so delightful. Here's everything you need to know to get started making your own lists with Alexa.

Alexa lists 101: The basics

To add an item to a list, just say, "Alexa, add [item] to [name of list.]" Don't worry if you don't have the list you asked for created yet -- Alexa will take care of that too.

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Regardless of what order you add items to your shopping list, Alexa will organize it into categories like "Frozen" and "Produce," for easier shopping.

Chris Monroe/CNET

For example, I just said "Alexa, add 'crossword puzzle' to my Sunday Funday list." The response was, "I couldn't find a list called 'Sunday Funday,' should I create one?" Of course you should, Alexa! And add "veg in front of the TV" while you're at it.

To access your lists, open the Alexa app on your phone or tablet, tap More in the lower right corner, then tap Lists & Notes near the top. You'll see the two default lists Alexa comes with, Shopping and To-do, followed by My Lists and any lists you've created (like Sunday Funday).

When you're finished with a list item (you've placed it in your grocery cart, for example), tap the square box to the left of the item to check it off. Don't worry -- checked items don't disappear completely. They're simply moved to the bottom of the list, where you can uncheck them if need be.

You can also say, "Alexa, check off [item] from my [name of list]" to mark off items hands-free if Alexa is nearby (you're wearing Echo Frames, say).

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You can shop your grocery list at Amazon Fresh or Amazon-owned Whole Foods. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Advanced Alexa list-making techniques

Alexa app shopping list popular items
Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

If you scroll all the way to the bottom of your shopping list, past all the unchecked items and checked items, you'll arrive at a section called Popular List Items. There, you can tap to your heart's content at a positively massive list of popular grocery items -- super helpful to make sure you didn't forget anything before leaving for a grocery trip.

Speaking of all those checked items -- you certainly don't want those hanging around forever, right? You can do two things with checked items: Clear them out completely or hide them (so you can unhide them again later, should you so choose).

First, while looking at the list on the Alexa app, tap the three dots in the upper right corner. To clear out checked items completely, tap Clear Completed. To merely hide them, tap Hide Completed. To catch a glimpse at those items again, you'll have to tap the three dots again, then tap Show Completed.

For bonus points, either from inside that same three dots menu, or right beside the three dots at the top of your screen, you can also Share your list with others (which also allows them to add items themselves) or Turn off list sharing to revoke access to shared lists.

Shop your list at Amazon or Whole Foods because of course you can

There's also a big blue button at the top of your shopping list which, no surprises here, will search Amazon and Amazon-owned Whole Foods for your items as soon as you tap it. If Amazon Fresh is available in your area or you shop at Whole Foods anyway, go ahead and try it out. (Unfortunately, neither of those is true for me, so I've never tested this feature.)

That's about as complicated as it gets, which makes this feature pretty simple, even by Alexa standards. Happy listing!