Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Your life is so complex, you deserve your own personal assistant. Cortana, available on Windows 10 and Windows Mobile, can help you navigate this fast-growing maze of your digital life. Why rely on someone else or your busy brain, when your competent virtual assistant Cortana is ready to serve at the tip of your tongue.
Let us show you how to delegate tasks to Cortana and make her help you with effectively organizing your life.
1. Set Default Programs Cortana Will Use
You have to sign into Cortana with your Microsoft Live account. This is so Cortana can save your questions and analyze your search history to better fit your needs whenever prompted.
Once signed in, the next best step in setting up Cortana is changing the Windows defaults to programs you are more familiar with. Cortana relies on the default Windows programs for a large part of its functionality. You can change these default programs under Windows key + X > Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs > Set your default programs > Select Program > Set this program as default.
For example, if you’d like to change the default Windows 10 browser Microsoft Edge, to Mozilla Firefox, simply select the program in the Set Default Programs window and Cortana will search for answers through the browser’s default search engine.
2. Call on Cortana Whenever You Want
The Hey Cortana voice command feature allows Cortana to run in the background and come forward once prompted by the phrase Hey Cortana. This is especially useful when prompting Cortana across a room or during an intense typing session.
Enable this feature under Windows Key > search Cortana & Search settings > enable Hey Cortana. You can toggle several other options in this menu, although these settings depend on the amount of information you are willing to share with Cortana. For our purposes the Hey Cortana command feature is the only vital setting.
3. Have Cortana Schedule an Appointment for You
When it comes to organizing your life, schedules are of the utmost importance. Use the voice command Set An Appointment for a particular time frame to have Cortana setba schedule for you. You can be as specific or as broad about the appointment description (e.g. Set a Dinner Appointment with Abigail for 6:30PM) as you wish, and Cortana will give you the choice of saving this appointment under any email account saved into the program.
You may also ask Cortana to remind you of your daily events by asking What do I have to do today? or When do I have a dinner appointment with Abigail? If you’re as forgetful as I am, you can also prompt Cortana to remind you of said event at any time by saying Remind me of my Dinner appointment with Abigail at 5:00PM, so you have ample time to get what you need done.
If you would like to schedule your time in shorter increments than hourly periods, Cortana also provides a timer function for productive period breaks. Simply ask Cortana to Set a timer for 30 minutes and she will comply to help keep you timely and efficient.
4. Ask Cortana If You Need a Jacket Today
Although Cortana is equipped with weather and traffic forecasts, the program is much more personable than a temperature listing. If you’re curious about whether you’ll need an umbrella or jacket for the day, simply ask Cortana Do I need a jacket today? to receive her honest opinion. Remember that Cortana is incapable of experiencing heat, thereby making the decision ultimately yours.
Cortana will also answer questions concerning traffic such as: How long will it take me to reach West Hollywood? and What does the traffic look like on the freeway today? along with recommending great places to eat or drink in your area.
If you have Cortana on your Windows 10 or Android phone, the program will also provide turn by turn directions to get you where you need to go. In some instances Cortana will remind you to make time for traffic when an event takes place in a remote location, making the program efficient and helpful backseat driver.
5. Let Cortana Crunch Your Numbers
Hate doing math in your head? Don’t worry about crunching numbers, you can rely on Cortana’s built-in calculator. Type in your summation and Cortana will promptly deliver the result.
If you prefer the button interface of a normal calculator application, click on your grayed out summation to access Cortana’s calculator interface.
If Cortana’s built-in calculator isn’t fitting your needs, you can always ask Cortana to open Calculator so you can use the Windows 10 calculator instead.
6. Discover the Linguist in Cortana
Hate thinking up formal terms in a business email or technical terms in that college thesis? Ask Cortana for synonyms to assist your writing.
Cortana also comes with a built-in translator function; ask her to translate simple words and phrases in other languages once a day, and you may even increase you interlingual vocabulary. Just ask Cortana How do I say Good morning in German? and she will not only give you the translation, but pronounce the translation for you as well.
Note that you can change Cortana’s own region and language by changing the respective settings on Windows 10. Open the Settings app (Windows key + I), go to Time & language > Region & language, and edit your default language. For example, you can Add a Language and set a new default language.
Make sure Settings > Time & language > Region & language > Country or region as well as Settings > Time & language > Speech > Speech language both correspond to the chosen default language.
7. Have Cortana Send an Email or Text Message
Cortana is a fairly capable email client whenever you need to pop off a quick email. Simply tell Cortana I want to send an email and stipulate who the message is going to and what the content of the email should be.
You can also send SMS text messages through your phone number to anyone in your phone or email contact list. This is particularly useful for hands-free texting, either on your Windows 10 desktop or Windows 10 Mobile and Android phones.
8. Cortana, Write This Down
Cortana also works as a dedicated note-taker to scribble down any brilliant ideas you happen to have. Request that Cortana write this down, fill out the content of your note, and click add to tack your note into your OneNote account.
By default, Windows uses OneNote to save all of your ideas; download OneNote to both your Windows Mobile or Android phone and you will never be without your ideas again.
9. DJ Cortana at Your Service
You can also request Cortana to play music from your computer by prompting the program to Play your favorite song, album, or artist. In the example shown below, I prompted Cortana to Play The Waters by Anderson Paak.
Cortana uses the Groove Music program on Windows 10 by default. You can also stop and play the music, along with requesting the next or previous track (replay and volume features are in the works).
10. Come to Consensus with Cortana
You’re left with two choices: Go to Janie’s party or stay in and finish that Senior thesis you’ve been putting off. It’s situations like these that are best left to chance. This is where Cortana’s random computational abilities reign supreme; simply prompt Cortana to flip a coin and she will assist you in deciding your fate.
Cortana also comes with built in Play Rock, Paper, Scissor and Roll a Dice features if you’re ever in the need for random, bi-partisan decision making.
What Will Cortana Do for You?
Since I’ve been using Cortana, my multi-tasking abilities have improved tenfold. Fewer steps, less distractions, and your productivity will soar. Do you want to listen to your favorite album while relacing your shoes? Simply call out a command. All in all: Cortana is a wondrous program and will only better with time.
What are your favorite features of Microsoft’s Cortana, and what features would you add to make Cortana a better virtual assistant?