44 ways Google Assistant can make you more efficient

Google Assistant has some genuinely useful productivity tools for professionals — and it's up to you to learn how to use them.

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JR Raphael/IDG

Google Assistant is artificial intelligence at your fingertips — but sometimes, it can be tough to know what to ask an omniscient robot to do.

I'm here to help. I've talked to my phone more than I'd care to admit (even before it did anything in response — boy, were those awkward times), and I've put together the ultimate guide to Google Assistant's most useful productivity-oriented commands.

So clear your throat, grab your nearest Assistant-packing gadget, and start putting that virtual companion of yours to work.

(Google Assistant is natively available on most reasonably current Android devices. You can typically access it by pressing and holding your Home key or by setting up "Hey, Google" voice activation in your system settings. You can also create a regular home screen shortcut to Assistant by downloading the standalone Assistant app. Assistant is available on iOS devices via a downloadable app, meanwhile, on certain Chromebooks via either a dedicated keyboard button or within the launcher's search function, and on Google Home and other smart speaker or Smart Display products via their built-in voice commands and on-screen options.

Unless otherwise noted, the functions described in this article should work on any Android phone, but some of them may not be available on iPhones, iPads, or other types of Assistant-enabled devices.)

Agenda and routines

1. Peek at your agenda for any day by asking Assistant variations on these questions:

  • "When's my next appointment?"
  • "Show me my appointments for Tuesday afternoon."
  • "What does my day look like on Friday?"
  • "What's on my calendar for next Monday?"
  • "What/when/where is my next event?"
  • "What's my first event tomorrow?"
  • "When's my next haircut appointment?"

2. Create new calendar events on the fly by telling Assistant "add to my calendar" or "make an appointment" followed by the event's name, date, time, and optionally even location. For instance, you could say something like: "Add to my calendar, project meeting on June 12th at 11 a.m." or "Make an appointment for a lunch meeting with Bill and Susan Friday at noon at Jerry's Deli."

3. Apple folks, you aren't forgotten: You can link Assistant to your iPhone's calendar by signing up for the free IFTTT service and then setting up this Google IFTTT applet for integrating Apple Calendar with Google Assistant. Once that's done, use the Assistant command "Add to my iOS calendar" followed by the event's title, date, and time.

4. Get a broader overview of your day by activating Assistant and saying "tell me about my day" or even just "good morning." That'll cause your Assistant to give you a summary of the weather for your current area along with a rundown of any reminders and appointments on your agenda — and, if you want, an overview of your commute and a quick broadcast of the news from whatever sources you prefer. You can even have Assistant automatically take your phone off silent, set your phone's media volume to a specific level, and adjust any connected devices in your home or office as part of the process.

To configure all of the options, open the Google Home Android or iOS app and tap the profile icon in the lower-right corner, then select "Settings" followed by "Assistant," "Routines," and "Good morning."

04 google assistant my day JR Raphael/IDG

Assistant's routines give you ample options for configuring complex chains of events that can then be triggered with a single command.

5. In that same section of the Home app's settings, you can configure a separate routine that'll occur whenever you tell your Assistant "good night." You could have it put your phone on silent, tell you about the next day's weather or the first event on your agenda, prompt you to set an alarm, and even play relaxing sleep sounds — all from that single command.

6. Be sure to look, too, for the routines for "Commuting to work" and "Commuting home." Those are handy ways to set up processes in which Assistant can do things like update you on the traffic or your agenda; set your phone's media volume to a certain level and play music, news, or a podcast; send a predefined text to a specific person or read your unread texts aloud; and even broadcast a message (like "On my way home" or "Arriving at the office in 20 minutes") to any Assistant-enabled speakers in your home or office.

7. Want to configure your own personalized routine? Tap the circular blue plus icon in that same "Routines" section in the Home app's settings. You can then create a custom list of actions that'll occur whenever you speak a specific command — or even just recur automatically every day at any time you specify.

Messages and communication

8. Next time you need to make a call, let Assistant act as your operator. Simply tell it to call any publicly listed business or any person in your contacts — specifying "mobile" or "work" if needed — and then sit back while the call is made. If you're driving and need to go completely hands-free, add "on speakerphone" to the end of your request.

9. You can make calls from a Google Home or Smart Display device as well and even have your own regular cell number show up on the caller ID — effectively giving you a free and supremely effective speakerphone that works over the internet and is completely independent of your actual mobile phone. Follow the steps on this Google help page to link your number and get started.

10. Send a text without lifting a finger by telling Google Assistant "text" followed by your contact's name. Assistant will ask for your message and, once you've finished dictating, show it on the screen and ask if you want to edit it. If your eyes are on the road and you can't look down, you can always take your chances and just say "send it" at that second prompt.

10 google assistant text JR Raphael/IDG

Hands-free texting is easy as can be with the right Assistant command.

11. Google Home and Smart Display devices don't yet offer native texting support, but there's a workaround: Set up this IFTTT applet for anyone you text routinely. It'll allow you to create a custom command for texting that person, and you can then activate it from any Assistant-enabled device.

12. Take note: You can use that same IFTTT texting applet to send custom notes or reminders to yourself from an Assistant-enabled speaker or display. The memos will show up as attention-demanding notifications on your phone — so when an important thought comes to mind during the day, all you have to do is speak it aloud and know it'll be waiting for you when you walk out the door. Simply put your own phone number in as the target when setting up the applet and configure the activation command to be something sensible for the context ("text myself," "send a message to my phone," or whatever else you might remember).

13. Need to catch up on text messages when your eyes are otherwise occupied? If you're using Google's own Messages app on Android, tell Assistant to read your messages. It'll walk you through your most recent texts and offer to let you respond to any messages by voice at the same time. You can also specify a contact's name — "Read me my messages from Arthur" — if you're looking for something specific.

14. Assistant makes it easy to find emails within Gmail as well: Just ask it to "find my emails from" a particular contact or to "find my emails about" a specific subject, and it'll pop up tappable results right within its interface. If you use a mail service other than Gmail, you can try searching Google's Assistant website for a third-party add-on such as Mail Triage — which adds email actions for Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook.com into Assistant's repertoire.

15. You can also send emails in Gmail via Assistant. Use the following format: "Send email to [contact name], subject [your subject], message [your message]."

16. If you find yourself saying the same things over and over in Slack, allow Assistant to speak on your behalf with Google's excellent Assistant-Slack IFTTT applet. You can set it up to send any message you want — "I'm running five minutes late," "Can you please come to my office for a quick meeting," "I need another sandwich immediately," or whatever else might be useful — to any channel or individual and using any voice command you choose. If you really want to get wild, you can even create multiple versions of the applet so you can have different voice-activated commands for different standard messages or destinations.

Reminders and notes

17. One of Assistant's most useful tools is its ability to take and manage context-sensitive reminders. You can set a reminder for a specific time and day — "Remind me to call Schmidt Friday at noon," for instance — or you can create a reminder that'll appear when you arrive at a particular location: "Remind me to order more paper when I get to work," "Remind me to check on report progress when I'm at the Chicago airport," "Remind me to mention the client's baby when I get to Red Robin," and so on.

You can even set reminders with general locations — such as "Remind me to pick up bagels at the grocery" or "Remind me that Gladys wants an Egg McMuffin when I get to McDonald's" — and Assistant will deliver the message the next time you arrive at a relevant place.

Last but not least, you can set recurring reminders by adding the word "every" into your command — as in: "Remind me to check the printers every Tuesday at 3," "Remind me to touch base with Stu on the first day of every month," or "Remind me to wish the boss a happy birthday on June 4 every year."

17 google assistant reminders JR Raphael/IDG

Assistant's reminders function is a fantastic way to keep track of important info, whether it's tied to a particular time or place or even connected to an ongoing schedule.

18. In addition to regular reminders, Google Assistant can help you remember random facts. Just tell it what you need to know — such as "Remember that the office Wi-Fi password is 'FreshProsciutto7,'" "Remember that my rental car is a red Toyota Camry with Florida license plate EE379Q," or "Remember that the boss's husband is an accountant named Morty."

Then, when you need to recall the info, just say, "What did I tell you about ..." followed by the subject — "the office Wi-Fi password," "my rental car," or whatever the case may be.

19. Attention, Apple fans: If you use Assistant but prefer to let Apple's Reminders app handle your task management, there's a way. Just grab Google's official Assistant-Reminders IFTTT applet, and you'll experience unfathomable levels of cross-ecosystem harmony.

20. Assistant's "note to self" function is in a strange state of ongoing flux: After initially allowing you to take a note via voice and have it beamed into any note-taking app you want, Google pulled that feature away and still, as of this writing, has not reinstated it in any especially useful way (despite promises during the 2018 Google I/O conference that such a move was imminent). For now, if you need to jot something down in a jiff, activate the IFTTT Assistant applets for creating a new Evernote note, adding something to an existing Evernote note, creating a new Trello card, creating a new Todoist task, or creating a new Wunderlist item. (Ironically, the service not supported amidst all of that is Google's own Google Keep note-taking utility. Go figure.)

21. If spreadsheets are more your organizational style, add a note (or any other type of data) into an existing Google Sheet by setting up Google's official Assistant-Sheets IFTTT applet and then rattling off info to your heart's content.

22. Google Assistant can act as your secretary and compile a running daily list of project ideas, to-do tasks, or anything else imaginable — and then send you the list as a single email at the end of the day. It can even send the list to multiple people or post it into team collaboration apps like Slack, Evernote, or Trello. This one requires a teensy bit of setup; check out my Android Intelligence guide for the lowdown.

Phone functions and settings

23. Let Assistant catch you up on any pending notifications by asking it: "What are my notifications?" The command will work from a phone or from an Assistant-enabled speaker or display, though it'll give you only the notifications pending on that one specific device.

24. Listening to some sort of (ahem) important business-related audio in the car? Tell Assistant to turn the volume up or down or to set it to a specific level ("set the volume to 10") or percentage ("set the volume to 50%"). You can also tell Assistant to mute the volume, if you just need some frickin' peace and quiet.

25. Speaking of silence, tell Assistant to "silence your phone" to put it into Do Not Disturb mode in a hurry. The same command will work from a Google Home or Smart Display, too, whether your phone is in the same physical location or not. You can also tell Assistant to turn Do Not Disturb on or off on any specific device ("my desk display," "my home office speaker," and so on) or tell it to silence or unsilence all of your devices for a moment of universal serenity.

26. When an unidentified gremlin hides your phone (because we all know you would never be so silly as to misplace it yourself), ask any other Assistant-enabled device on which your account is connected to "find my phone." That'll cause the phone to ring loudly, no matter where it might be tucked away.

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