Use your voice to help you get organised this #UniMentalHealthDay 

The mental health of the over 2.3 million students studying in UK universities is an important topic. With around a third of students reporting clinical levels of psychological distress, this Uni Mental Health Day 2019 students are being encouraged to make their voices and stories heard. One way that your voice can help to reduce stress in your studies is to take advantage of some of the many features and functions of smart assistants.

Take control with smart assistantsPhoto of Google Assistant

We all know about the virtual helpers within our phones and tablets, and increasingly common are those smart speakers on our desks and bookshelves. They can perform a wide range of tasks from giving us useful facts and information such s the weather or news, playing music, sending texts or starting calls. When they work they save time and feel a little like magic.

But did you know that your voice and these smart assistants can also help keep you organised, study more efficiently and reduce those stress levels?

Let's take a look at a few top tips to reduce Uni-related stress to more manageable levels.

Attack absent-mindedness with appointments

This first one's a no-brainer. There's nothing more stressful than being late for important meetings or forgetting to turn up for tutorials. Use your voice assistant to add recurring appointments that cover all your classes and extra-curricular activities so that you know where to be during your working week. It's easier than you think; simply ask your Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa to create a new appointment and they'll prompt you for the rest. Tip - when they ask for the day and time say something like "Every Friday morning at 10am." 

Don't forget to put in where each appointment is. Giving each appointment a location means that Siri or Google's Assistant can help to get you there if you need a little help those first few times. They'll also know how long it will take you to get there and will remind you in good time to leave. No more missed lectures or dates for coffee. 

Recruit the power of remindersExample iphone screens showing reminders being used on Siri

This is another obvious one. All of the smart assistnats give you the ability to set reminders that will be triggered at a certain time or place. For example, ask Siri, "Remind me to hand in my essay next Friday morning at 10." or say to your Google Assistant, "Remind me to speak to Dr Smith about extra time when I'm at the Engineering Department." Taking the jumble of things to remember out of your brain and dumping them into your smart assistant will undoubtedly help you feel more organised and in control.

If you're in the US, then your Echo can do location-based reminders too. Even though Alexa is confined to a cylinder in your room, the companion app will use your phone's GPS to trigger the alert as you approach that location. This will be coming to the UK soon - just like all new things with Alexa, they take a few months before we get to play with them too.

Don't forget that you can also set recurring reminders; "Remind me every Thursday at 10pm that it's my turn to empty the bins."

Enlist the power of lists

This too is a simple but powerful idea. Finding a piece of paper to write down a task or note may be easy enough, but finding those scraps of paper again when you need them might not be. If you're creating longer lists of points, then you'll always need that same bit of paper to hand when the next notion strikes. It's easy to lose a piece of paper, but we all know where our phones are all of the time - don't we? Take the stress out of capturing those tasks and important notes by using your voice to pop them into your personal digital assistant.

Asking Siri, say, to "Add toilet paper to my shopping list," will do just that. You can then ask her to show you your shopping list when you're next at the supermarket and you're away. Never again will there be another communal toilet-paper crisis like the famous one of Freshers' Week 2018… and there's nothing more stressful than that. With both Siri and the Google Assistant you can create as many lists as you like. With Alexa, at present, you're limited to 'Shopping' and 'To-dos' - but again the companion app will keep track of them so you can review them whenever and wherever you are.

You're probably thinking that making a few lists isn't going to make a massive difference to the levels of anxiety associated with Uni life - but we're reducing stress wherever we spot it to make things more managable when we can.

Stay focused with the power of tomatoes

Feeling anxious about getting down to work and continually looking for distractions? If the prospect of open-ended, unstructured study is stressing you out then you may The Pomodoro Technique infographic: decide on the task to be done, set the timer to 25 minutes, work on the task until timer rings, take a short 5 minute break, take a 15-30 minute breakwant to enlist the power of tomatoes. Well, pomodoros to be precise. What am I talking about?? 'Pomodoro' is Italian for 'tomato' and the Pomodoro Technique is a simple way of segmenting up your studies into managable juicy chunks. 

This is how it works:

1. Choose your task (planning that essay or revising those notes) and start a timer for 25 minutes. This is your first Pomodoro. Commit yourself to giving your full focus to the task for that length of time - it isn't long after all is it? If you suddenly realize you have something else you need to do, note it down for later but don't get distracted from your task.
2. When the Pomodoro rings, put a satisfying checkmark on a piece of paper. Congratulations! You’ve spent an entire, interruption-free Pomodoro on a task.
3. Now take a short (5 minute) break. Breathe, meditate, grab a cup of coffee, go for a short walk or do something else relaxing (i.e., not work-related). Your brain will thank you later.
4. Ready for the next Pomodoro? Go for it. After 3 or 4 Pomodoros you deserve a 15-30 minute break. That's it. You're now using the Pomodoro Technique to work harder and smarter.

"But where," I hear you say, "do voice assistants fit in?" Well, you can obviously use them to set those Pomodoro timers so that you don't lose track of time. On the Echo,Tomato helper symbol however, there is a skill called Tomato Helper which will do the timing for you. During each Pomodoro you can choose to listen to a quite ticking noise or else just silence. During each break you get some fabulous music to chill out to. To start the skill just ask Alexa to "Open Tomato Helper."

After work, wind down with help from your smart assistant

When some work has been done and your meetings not missed, when the shopping is fetched and some to-dos ticked off,  you can de-stress with the help of your voice and your smart assistant. While Siri and Google's Assistant can launch your favourite tunes or open an app or two to take your mind off work, there's no better choice when it comes to entertainment than Alexa. With over 32,000 skills (over 50,000 in the US), Alexa can play every sort of game from quizes to immersive audio-adventures and all using your voice alone. Regular readers of my posts may be aware that my enthusiasm for Alexa's many talents are featured daily in the 'Dot to Dot' podcast. If you have an Echo, why not try asking her to play a game or list her top skills? And if games aren't your thing when it comes to unwind, then just ask her what's on TV or in the local cinema. She also knows addresses for local nightlife and their opening times etc. Once you've had a great, relaxing evening then you can tell your smart assistant to tick that item off your to-do list.

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