"If mama ain't happy, ain’t nobody happy." I’m sure you’ve heard the saying.
Well, I’m a mama and lately I haven’t been happy. I’m a stressed-out, out-of-shape workaholic parent of three (two are teenagers). I barely sleep, overeat and work so much I forget to pee and drink water for hours at a time. My biggest work-life imbalance yet: Working clear through two of my kids’ parent-teacher conferences, after forgetting to pick them up from school.
Like most all of the moms I know, I put everyone before myself first. At the end of the day, I collapse into bed, exhausted. Then my kids wake me up one by one for different reasons -- usually for my favorite one: to kiss me before they go to bed. If my husband wants my attention (and he always does), he has to take a number. My dog? Forget about it, pup. You get nada. And my cat? Wait, do I still have a cat?
Structure and calm. To say I need heaps more of both in my home life is an understatement. I’ve known this for years, have experienced several health scares from chronically running on empty and have done nothing to fix it, barring temporary patchwork. At my husband’s urging, I’ve squeezed in a yoga class here and a walk there, but I’ve never taken his (and others’) pleas for me to put myself and my health first seriously. Not until my editor Stephen Bronner, whom also often urges me to slow down, assigned me this very article. My marching orders: To try Google Goals for a week and take copious notes on what happens.
“Fine, easy enough,” I thought. “Sign me up.” Then, in true stresscase Kim-style, I freaked out a little inside at the idea of piling yet one more task onto my cracked, overflowing plate. Sure, I’d shoehorn in more to-dos between article deadlines, schlepping kids to and from different schools (and to the doctor and dentist and hair salon and shoe store), helping with homework, cooking, cleaning, coaching … you get the point.
But this time, these to-dos, these so-called Google Goals, would be all about me. Well, mostly.
If I followed them, if I dutifully checked them off like a good doobie, my resulting inner happiness just might ooze outward, at work and at home. I’d be better watered, fed, rested and relaxed, making for a happier worker and a happier wife and mom. I’d probably be more productive, too. That was the big idea.
Alex Gawley, Google’s director of product for Google Calendar, tells me the purpose of Google Goals is to help busy people like me -- and anyone, really -- spend more time on the things we care about. “So far, we see compelling evidence that scheduling time on your calendar is the best way to do that,” he says in an email. His team conducted “lots” of interviews and surveys to “figure out the important things that people couldn’t find the time to do.” Google Goals are “the reflection of those aspirations.”
But would they work for me? Would using Google Goals help me help myself for once? Or would my lifelong lack of self-care undermine this humbling assignment? Let’s find out.
To get started, I downloaded the Google Calendar app on my iPhone (I’ve been using an old-school printed calendar for personal life stuff -- lame, I know). Next, I started adding life-enhancing goals to it (the only kind available to choose from on the app).
To add goals to your Google Calendar, simply open the app and click the circular red plus button. Then choose Goals. You’ll then see a pleasantly, whimsically illustrated list of goal types -- Exercise (“run, do yoga, get your body moving”), Build a skill (“Learn a language, practice an instrument”), Friends & Family (“Make time for who matters most”), Me Time (“Read, meditate, take care of yourself”) and Organize My Life (“Stay on top of things”).
What you won’t find are specifically work-related goals, because Google Goals are mainly all about you: personal you, not work you.
Day 1, Friday, April 22
Full disclosure: I had to call Google PR to walk me through exactly how to set up Google Goals after my first and second attempts failed. My user error: Simply failing to click one measly checkmark button to cement the goals I’d spent a half-hour individually setting up. Hopefully you’re much tech-savvier and won’t have this same problem. I made the dumb mistake so you don’t have to.
To get my goals underway, I started light with one goal. After all, it was TGIF, my youngest son had a flag football game and a play date, my oldest had geometry tutoring and I didn’t want to stress attaining any fancy, ambitious goals after a full day of work and carting kids around. My lone goal: Eat with my family at the table, not in front of the TV (for a change lately). I scheduled chow time for 6 p.m., but actually started to nosh at 5 p.m. with our friends. The meal: homemade spaetzle (German mac n' cheese) that my best friend cooked an hour before and a “fresh” salad I unceremoniously dumped out of a bag and assembled. Hey, at least we ate together with friends and family, and not from a drive-through.
Day 2, Saturday, April 23
Humming right along, I’m newly riding the trackable motivation train, though with more purpose, structure and timing than I’ve ever managed to muster, at least since returning to full-time work four years ago after staying home with the kids and freelancing for 13 years. I felt hopeful, waking up to kick off my Saturday Google Goal-chasing with a scheduled walk first thing in the morning, my trusty black lab Oso in tow. It would’ve been great had my husband not beat me to the punch. When I woke up, he was already out strolling with the dog. Goal deferred, but no biggie.
Next up, Google Goal two of the day. An unfun one: Doing house chores. I nagged my sleepy-headed kids out of their stinky rooms and away from their iPhones, laptops and Xboxes to pitch in. Floors were swept, dishes done and laundry shoved in drawers, peppered with maximum yelling and empty threats to take away the kids’ electronics on my part … if they didn’t help me accomplish my goal. So much strife on a Saturday morning, but the house was spit-spot in the end. Sorry, kids, blame Google Goals.
Right after scouring the house, I tackled a quality family time Google Goal. We checked it off with a trip up the freeway to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Three kids and two of my best friend’s kids followed me and my husband around the crowded tomb of dusty dino bones and gemstones. One goal down, six more to go, and when was it going to actually be about me?
Overdoing it a bit as I tend to do when throwing myself into something new, I’d also set up a Google Goal for later in the night of working on long-term career development goals, but completely blew it off because I got busy haranguing the kids to brush and floss their teeth. Signing myself up for an L.A. Writers Group workshop would have to wait. Same with joining the Los Angeles Press Club, the latter of which has been on my career to-do list for years. I clicked “defer” on my “career goal chase” Google Goal, hoping Google’s algorithms would find another spot in my calendar for this important activity. It’s supposed to automagically do that, you know.
Later in the day, my Google Calendar nudged me via mobile homescreen alarm notification to complete my goal of meditating for 15 minutes. Ah, the irony of a smartphone audibly barking at you to stop and unplug. I happily obeyed, locking myself in my bedroom, melting into my new creamsicle orange meditation pillow on the floor, listening to a guided anxiety-chilling meditation via Calm app. I highly recommend the app, along with a similar app called Headspace, for stressed-out full-time working moms and dads of three -- or to anyone seriously needing to unwind, which would probably be all entrepreneurs, am I right?
Day 3, Sunday, April 24
Sunday morning and afternoon were a wash. I had a big-time setback, checking off not one of my Google Goals. I was so busy carting my daughter to lacrosse, cooking, helping with homework and doing groceries for the week that I completely failed to accomplish a single goal during the day. That means I didn’t heed Google Goals’ call to drink an adequate amount of water, plan a date with my husband (who's that?!), nor to square away my finances and pay bills, all goals I’d set up within the app with every intention of completing them.
When night fell, I got a second wind and accomplished several scheduled Google Goals back to back, however. I meditated. Check. I called my parents for my weekly hello. Check. I read a book that’s been gathering dust by my bedside (ugh, about how to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk). Check. Finally, I free-wrote for a few minutes and listed my nightly gratitude list in my journal. Check, check.
All in all, even though I was off to a schlumpy start, I felt that I’d had a semi-successful day goal-wise. The cumulative effects of stopping and meditating, directly due to Google Goals reminding me to do so, were adding up. I felt calmer and more relaxed all around, less reactive to my usual triggers, like stepping on dirty boxer shorts carelessly tossed on the carpet and the cat pooping in the jacuzzi, like the evil furball does every single morning since we got the dog.
Related: The Truth About Work-Life Balance
Day 4, Monday, April 25
Apparently I was all about that #MondayMotivation because I steamrolled right through my Google Goals. I obeyed mobile notification chimes to quaff gobs of water and to read, both of which I did during a short work break that I barely wedged into my schedule, something I rarely do. As for the reading, I bit off a short excerpt of another neglected bedside book (which is fittingly about becoming less of a workaholic and making more time for yourself and the people you love).
To close out a nonstop busy work-life-and-mama-life kind of day, I slumped onto my orange meditation pillow once again, cued the Calm app and soon fell asleep sitting up, for the win. I was gone, somewhere else, deep in relaxation for once. Right up until my daughter rapped on the locked door, reminding me that we’d scheduled some special mom-daughter time to catch up on her goals and to collectively journal a shared gratitude list. She’s type A like that. She gets it from my husband, not me obviously.
Day 5, Tuesday, April 26
Not a single Google Goal was accomplished today and not because I slacked. None mysteriously appeared on my calendar for this day. Poof, they were gone, like I never created them. Knowing me, I probably didn't. User error.
Or, I suspect that the almighty algorithms at Google Calendar might’ve intuited that I crawl out from my at-home telecommuter cave on Tuesdays and head south to Entrepreneur’s Irvine headquarters to work alongside other humans. Perhaps the app sensed that I already had enough going on, between an editorial video meeting with our New York office, an article deadline, a couple of phone interviews and a doctor’s appointment to get to the bottom of some stress-related chest pains I’ve been having. (Don’t worry, I’m fine, so says the good doc and the EKG machine.)
Without Google Goals to gently nag me via buzzy mobile notifications, I felt free to take a walk by the beach near the doctor's office, just because I could. I also cued up my meditation app whilst sprawled out in bed for the night, again with no Google Goals reminder. Maybe this experiment was rubbing me the right way. New, healthy habits were being established, day after busy day. My kids and my husband seemed happier and more relaxed, too. Maybe my increasing good vibes were contagious?
Day 6, Wednesday, April 27
Feeling pretty guilty about not barrelling through one single scheduled Google Goal yesterday (apart from my non-scheduled ones), I awoke determined to be a goal-crushing machine. I walked my antsy pup one whole block (not exactly tiring for either of us, but it did the trick) during a five-minute work break, rushing him from tree to tree. I felt like I was doing it just to do it, just to be able to write about it here. Still, at least I checked my daily walking goal off.
I made a mental note to adjust the time for this daily strutting goal, as it’s inconvenient for it to fall smack-dab in the middle of my busy morning writing rush. Like any other event on Google Calendar, you can set Google Goals for specific times. The more you mark them as completed, the more Google Calendar continues to keep them on pre-set dates and times. The more you defer them, the more the app will move them to times it "thinks" are better.
The final analysis
Some say it takes 28 days to develop a habit, but taking time for myself is already starting to grow on me, even if these self-centered Google Goals sometimes feel like yet more stuff to check off in a harried day. More than that, each completed goal registers like a small win, a mini thank you to myself for working hard at home and on the job.
Scheduling short breaks for myself -- to hydrate in the morning, to meditate often and to occasionally hibernate alone in my room and read -- has been bittersweet, too. It’s opened my denial-heavy eyes to how little I care for myself until I took this assignment. Until I was essentially forced to do me.