Organise Your Life With These Google Assistant Hacks

Photo: Florence Ion

What’s the point of all these digital assistants, anyway? To make life simpler, of course. The Google Assistant, in particular, can not only help answer life’s burning questions and control smart devices, but it can also act as your very own personal reminder bot.

Assistant offers a ton of programmable commands to set you on your way, and its Reminders are available on any Android smartphone, or iPhone with the Google Home app installed, as well as on compatible Google smart speakers and smart displays. They’re easy to set up, and there’s a bit more to the feature than shouting out, “Hey, remind me to do something.” Although, the Assistant does that pretty well, too.

For busy people

Easily set a Reminder for yourself through the Assistant app, or through a smart display or smart speaker. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

Can’t seem to remember to complete everyday chores, pick up the dry cleaning when it’s time, or replenish your pet’s favourite food stash? The Google Assistant can help you handle all of these tasks. You can set specific reminders for yourself by date, day and time, or by location.

First, you’ll need to turn on Assistant’s Personal Results, available in the Home app for iOS and Android. You’ll have to turn on the feature for each specific mobile device, smart speaker, or smart display you want to work with this particular feature. Then, set up Voice Match in the Assistant settings panel in the Home app, so that the Assistant recognises your voice when you set a reminder.

From there, triggering the feature is easy. Say something like, “OK, Google, remind me to turn down the dial on the thermostat every night at 7 PM.” The Assistant will respond to let you know it’s filed away the reminder. Then, it will chime at the same time every night on the smart speaker or smart display where you made the reminder. If you made the reminder with your mobile phone, you’ll see a notification pop up, instead.

To set a reminder based on location, try to be as specific as possible. If you’re in a small town, for instance, you can ask Google to remind you to get milk any time you’re at a particular grocery store. These sort of specific locales become trickier to set up if you’re in a large suburb or urban area. Try mentioning the street address of where you want the reminder to pop up, instead. For reminders near your home or office, you can program those addresses into Google Maps for better accuracy.

For students who have too much to do

Peep at your Reminders list any time you need to keep track of what you have going on. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

As a student, keeping track of every single thing to study, person to meet, and advisor to talk to can be hard to track when you have life lessons to learn, parties to attend, and exams to study for. Assistant’s Reminders are a great way to help stay on task, and Google will keep a long running tally until you’ve marked them as complete. Unfortunately, there is no separate app to check on the list of reminders you’ve made thus far without digging into your Google Calendar. But since the Reminders page is technically a web app, you can bookmark a specific link to place on your phone’s home screen for easy access.

Navigate to assistant.google.com/reminders/mainview in your mobile browser. (Note that this URL will not work on a desktop browser.) If you’re using the Chrome browser on your Android device, tap the Add to Homescreen option in the overflow menu. Chrome will then walk you through the process of creating a bookmark widget to place anywhere on your home screen. Other browsers might allow you to add the link as a bookmark, though the additional functionality of placing a widget on the home screen may not be available.

Add a Widget or a Bookmark to your Home screen for easy access to your Reminders. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

iOS users can access this particular Reminders page with a simple bookmark. On your iPhone or iPad, open up mobile Safari, navigate to the link above, then select the “Add to home screen” from the menu to add a shortcut alongside your apps.

For frustrated parents and roommates

As long as they’re in your Family Group or Home group, you can set specific Reminders for other folks in your household. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

Reminders aren’t limited to you. The Assistant can program reminders for family members or roommates, too. The only prerequisite is that you need to have those folks added to your Google family group, which you can set up through families.google.com.

If it’s a platonic situation, you can link individual Google accounts to a smart speaker or smart display within your home group. This is set up through the Google Home app: Tap Home View—the left-most bottom tab—then tap the Settings gear icon. From here, tap the second option to view Home members, then tap the plus sign at the top-right of the screen to input the email address of the person you want to add. Google will send them an invite to join your home group.

To set specific Reminders, say something like, “OK, Google, remind Frank to take out the trash every Thursday at 8 PM.” The Assistant will respond if it’s accepted your reminder. When the time comes for the alert, the smart speaker or smart display where the reminder was programmed will sound off a signal and announce that there’s a reminder for Frank. Frank will also receive a notification on their mobile device, provided they have the Assistant app for Android or iOS installed. Location-based reminders also work here the same way you’d program one for yourself.

Parents, you can set up a specific Google account for any children in your household under 13 years of age using Family Link. Reminders will be available to them, so the Assistant can hold them accountable for making their bed every morning or remembering their weekly chores.

At present, this particular feature is only available in the US, UK, and Australia. Also, it won’t work if you’re using a Google account provided through work or school.

For the forgetful

There’s no point in remembering your wifi password when Google can do it for you. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

Can’t remember your neighbour’s first name? Or your wifi password? The Assistant can help. Ask Google to remember a specific detail. The phrasing is, “Remember that my neighbour’s name is Bob.” When you want Assistant to recall that information, ask specifically, “What’s my neighbour’s name?” and it will respond with what you asked it to remember.

For best results, keep the information as simplified as possible. Asking the Assistant to remember specific caps and spacing for the wifi password might complicate the programming process. But for the most part, this can be a helpful utility for remembering shared tidbits of information that aren’t always immediately accessible.

For furious note-takers

The Google Assistant offers a straightforward “note to self” feature. Ask Google to “take a note,” and it’ll file it away within the Assistant app. When you’re ready to access those notes, ask Google, “What are my notes?” and it’ll surface the list on your mobile device or smart display. You can also use the command, “Note to self,” and Google will ask you to pick whether you want to file your notes to Google Keep or Gmail.

The easiest way to ask Google to take a note for you is to simply ask it, “Take a note.” (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

Want a more robust way of taking notes? You’ll want to sign up for IFTTT, a helpful service that works with a myriad of connected devices and apps. IFTTT works a bit like drag-and-drop programming, in that you can set parameters for, “if this happens, then that happens.” You don’t need any working knowledge of programming, but you will need the account name and password for each service you plan to use to grant access. For more information on getting started with IFTTT, check out our beginner’s guide.

You can create an IFTTT formula for filing notes through the Google Assistant either through the mobile app for iOS and Android or in your desktop browser. In this example, we’ll do the latter.

IFTTT can be pretty straightforward to set up, though it might take newcomers a few tries. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

For the “If This” part of the formula, search for the Google Assistant option, then select the option to “Say a phrase with a text ingredient.” In the first blank space, under “What do you want to say?” type in what you’ll say to the Assistant so that it knows this specific command. Enter a dollar sign after it ($) to indicate when the Assistant will standby to listen for your input. It can be any combination of words you find easy to remember.

There’s a space for you to decide what you want to Assistant to say in response to your command. Again, this can be anything that indicates to you that this specific command is engaged. You can type in the dollar sign where you want the Assistant to repeat back what you’ve said so that you have confirmation of the phrase that will be archived. When you finish, select “Create trigger.”

Next, you’ll be prompted to choose your action service. The nice thing about IFTTT is that it offers lots of flexibility. If you use Google Docs, for instance, you can have your notes sync up to one specific document or a new one every time you fire off a note. Or, if you use a service like Evernote, Todoist, or OneNote, you can have your verbal notes sync up there. For the serious professional, this feature also works with Trello and Asana.

If you choose Google Docs, IFTTT will allow you to choose a document name and how the content should appear, as well as where to place the file in your Google Drive. When you finish, select “Create action” to solidify the formula.

Notes to self can be existential or utilitarian. (Screenshot: Florence Ion)

For Apple Reminders users

We get it—you’d rather not bother with Google Reminders because you’re a devoted user of Apple Reminders. Fortunately, with a little IFTTT magic, you can set up an applet to file reminders directly into Apple Reminders. Google offers an official Assistant-to-Reminders IFTTT app. You can set it up like any other formula; all it takes is a bit of editing to ensure each service is synced with your respective Google and Apple accounts.


Comments

    I've had problems with using IFTTT with note to self functionality. It's probably my own fault because I just say too many words when taking a note, but often the note won't trigger IFTTT and instead just go into Keep. It's frustrating.
    If I keep my notes under 5 words it always works, but it's really not natural. If I just take a note naturally it sometimes work, sometimes doesn't.

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