Supercharge Your Goal Setting with Google Calendar Goals

We all have aspirations and improvements we want to make in our lives, whether it‘s getting fit, learning a new skill, reading more books, or carving out time for a hobby. But without actively making these goals a priority and dedicating time to them, it‘s all too easy for them to get neglected amidst the daily grind.

But what if you could effortlessly find time to work on your personal goals and have that time automatically scheduled around the rest of your commitments? That‘s the idea behind Goals in Google Calendar.

What are Google Calendar Goals?

Launched in April 2016, Goals is a feature in Google Calendar for mobile (Android and iOS) that aims to help you find time for the things that are important to you but often get deprioritized when life gets busy.

Here‘s how it works: You set a personal goal, like "Work out 3 times a week" or "Practice guitar for 60 minutes 5 days a week," specifying the frequency, duration, and preferred time of day for each session. Google Calendar then looks at your existing schedule and finds the optimal windows to pencil in time for your goal.

As events come up that conflict with a scheduled goal session, Calendar automatically reschedules that session for you while still keeping you on track to achieve your target frequency for the week. Essentially, Goals allows you to make a commitment to working on something and then outsources the job of finding time for it to Google.

Some examples of goals you could track:

  • Exercise goals like going for a run, doing yoga, or strength training
  • Learning and skill development, like practicing an instrument, studying a language, or working on a personal coding project
  • Health goals, like meditating daily or meal prepping on weekends
  • Creative hobbies like writing, painting, or photography
  • Personal growth activities like journaling or reading
  • Relationship-building goals like calling family or scheduling date nights

The Goals interface guides you through setting up a goal with illustrations and predefined categories. You can select from popular goal types like "Build a skill," "Me time," and "Friends & family," or create a custom goal.

The Science of Goal Setting

At first glance, Goals might just seem like a clever scheduling tool. But it actually taps into several proven principles from the science of goal achievement.

Studies have found that one of the most effective techniques for achieving goals is to make a specific plan for when and where you‘ll carry out the actions to move you forward – a concept known as "implementation intentions." A meta-analysis of 94 studies on this technique found that people who explicitly state their intention to follow through on a goal are much more likely to actually do so (source).

By prompting you to specify exactly when and how often you‘ll work on your goal, and then actually scheduling that time, Goals takes care of the planning piece that many people otherwise neglect. It forces you to make an implementation intention.

Another important factor in goal achievement is self-monitoring, or tracking your progress. A large-scale analysis of 138 studies on goal setting found that monitoring progress is one of the most critical factors in whether people achieve their goals over time (source). The Goals interface displays your goal completion stats for the week, using color coding and percentages to indicate if you‘re on track, so the feature inherently encourages this monitoring.

Goals also help counteract akrasia, the human tendency to put off difficult or tedious tasks in favor of more pleasant or instantly gratifying activities. We generally know what habits and actions would improve our lives, but summoning the willpower to do them in the moment is hard.

Researchers have found one of the most effective ways to overcome akrasia is through "temptation bundling," or combining a responsibility with a reward or enjoyable activity (source). If you‘re dreading working on a goal, you could schedule your goal session right before something you look forward to, like watching an episode of your favorite show or going out to dinner with friends. Over time, you start to associate the goal activity with the positive reward.

With Google Calendar Goals scheduling your goal sessions adjacent to other appointments and reminders on your calendar, you can strategically position goal time around events that will motivate you to follow through even when you‘re not in the mood.

How to Set Up a Goal

Adding a new goal in Google Calendar is a straightforward process:

  1. Open the Google Calendar app on your Android or iOS device and tap the "+" button in the bottom right corner.
  2. Tap the "Goal" option with the flag icon.
  3. Choose from the list of preset goal categories, like "Exercise," "Build a skill," or "Me time," or select "Custom" to define your own.
  4. Follow the prompts to specify the frequency, duration, and preferred time of day for each goal session. For example, you might select "3 times a week," "30 minutes," and "Morning."
  5. Tap "Next" to review your goal and then "Add goal" to start scheduling sessions.

Once your goal is saved, you‘ll see sessions start to populate on your calendar, marked with a unique flag icon. Calendar will do its best to find time slots that match your preferred time of day while working around your existing commitments.

If a conflict comes up and you need to reschedule a specific goal session, simply tap on that event in your calendar and select "Later today," "Tomorrow," or "Next week" to move it. You can also drag and drop sessions to a different time or day. Calendar will automatically adjust future sessions to keep you on track for your target frequency.

Tips for Successfully Achieving Goals

Setting up goals in Google Calendar is a great start, but there are a few best practices to keep in mind if you want to turn aspirations into results:

Frame your goals as specific actions – When defining your goals, be as precise as possible about what you‘ll actually do during your scheduled sessions. Rather than a broad goal like "Work on novel," set one like "Write 500 words of my novel." The more granular the action, the more likely you are to follow through.

Set goals you‘re excited about – As much as we all feel we "should" do things like eat healthier or learn to code, forcing a goal that you dread working on is usually counterproductive. Choose goals that align with your values and desires. The anticipation of the outcome should be enough to overcome any resistance to getting started.

Keep sessions short – Aim to keep your goal sessions to 30 minutes or less when possible. Knowing you only have to show up for a short burst of time reduces the temptation to procrastinate. You can gradually increase your session length as the habit becomes ingrained.

Ritualize your practice – Turn goal time into an enjoyable ritual by pairing it with a treat or activity you enjoy. Maybe you sip your favorite coffee while reading a book, or listen to energizing music while exercising. By making goal time something to look forward to, you‘re more likely to stick with it.

Check in every week – At the end of every week, review your goal completion percentage and reflect on your progress. Did you hit your target? If not, were the roadblocks logistical or motivational? Course correct by tweaking your goal settings or adjusting your approach for the next week. Treating goals as an iterative process maximizes your chances of long-term success.

Integrating Goals with Your Schedule

One of the most powerful aspects of Goals is how it integrates your goal activities into your actual schedule. Rather than goals being something separate that you try to find time for reactively, the sessions are proactively placed on your calendar like any other commitment.

Of course, for this to work well, you have to actually reference and abide by your calendar. The magic of Goals is lost if you don‘t honor your scheduled sessions.

A few tips for integrating goals:

  • Set a "view calendar" reminder 15-30 minutes before your goal sessions so you don‘t lose track of them
  • During your weekly planning, review where your goal sessions ended up and move them around if needed
  • If your goal requires equipment or prep work, set a reminder an hour or so before the session to gather what you need
  • Try to schedule goal sessions adjacent to other appointments or activities you enjoy to make them feel like a natural part of your day
  • Remember that you can always move a goal session if something urgent comes up – just make sure to reschedule it

By treating goal time as sacred and non-negotiable, you‘re sending a powerful signal to yourself that these activities are just as important as your work meetings and social commitments.

The Evolution of Goals

Since launching Goals in 2016, Google has continued to add features and improvements based on user feedback. Some of the key updates:

  • Customizable goal end dates: In addition to setting a weekly frequency for your goals, you can now specify an overall end date for goals that have a finite timeline, like studying for an exam or training for a race.
  • Pinning goals: To make your most important goals more prominent, you can now pin specific goals to the top of your Goals list for easy access.
  • Syncing with Apple Health and Google Fit: For wellness-related goals like exercise and meditation, you can now automatically mark goal sessions as complete by syncing Google Calendar with your Apple Health or Google Fit account.
  • Day-specific goals: Rather than goals defaulting to any day of the week, you can now indicate a specific set of days for your goal, like "Monday, Wednesday, Friday." This accommodates scheduling constraints, like only having access to a guitar on certain days of the week.
  • Expanded goal preferences: When setting up a new goal, you now have even more options for frequency (up to 7 days per week), duration (10 minutes to 3 hours), and time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, night).

Google has also introduced new goal types over time, like "Friends & family," "Organize my life," and "Attend an event," making the feature relevant to an even broader range of use cases.

Success Stories

Stories of people using Google Calendar Goals to make major life changes demonstrate the power of the feature. Take Caitlyn S., a technical project manager from Seattle. Caitlyn had struggled for years to maintain an exercise routine, letting work stress and scheduling challenges get in the way of her workouts.

When she discovered Google Calendar Goals, it was a light bulb moment. She set a goal to run four mornings per week before work, letting Google find the least disruptive time. After a few weeks of letting Goals optimize her schedule, the routine started to feel natural.

"It sounds silly, but just having those goal sessions blocked off on my calendar made it feel non-negotiable, like I‘d committed to an appointment with myself," Caitlyn said. "I went from sporadic workouts to consistently exercising nearly every day without having to think about it."

Over six months, Caitlyn lost 15 pounds, improved her average mile time by two minutes, and even ran her first half marathon. She attributes much of her success to Goals making exercise logistically and psychologically easier.

"Goals eliminated all the friction and excuses that had derailed me in the past," she said. "I didn‘t have to constantly make the choice to work out – the choice was made for me. All I had to do was show up."

How Goals Compare to Other Tools

Goals is certainly not the only tool out there for setting and tracking goals. Other options like coach.me, Strides, and Beeminder offer robust features for goal tracking, habit formation, and accountability.

Where Goals stands out is in its native integration with your calendar. If you already live and die by your Google Calendar to manage your schedule and routines, Goals will feel like a natural extension of that.

Rather than having to check a separate app and manually log your goal completions, simply showing up for your scheduled sessions is tracked automatically. Goals makes pursuing goals as seamless as showing up for a meeting.

The other advantage is that Google Calendar is free and ubiquitous. You don‘t have to download a separate app or pay for a subscription. If you already have a Google account, you can start using Goals in seconds.

That said, there are some features Goals lacks compared to standalone habit trackers. You can‘t set up custom reminders for your goal sessions, track streaks, or view detailed progress graphs over time. And because the Goals functionality is tucked away in the mobile app, it doesn‘t have the same visibility as apps designed solely for goal tracking.

Ultimately, the best tool comes down to your personal preferences and needs. If you want a basic, free way to block off time for goals with smart scheduling assistance, Google Calendar Goals is the perfect lightweight option. If you need more granular tracking, prompts, and analytics, a dedicated goal tracking app may be worth the extra cost and setup.

Adopt a Goal-First Mindset

At the end of the day, a goal setting feature is only as powerful as your underlying commitment to the goal. No amount of smart scheduling can make up for a lack of genuine motivation.

Before setting up any new goal in Google Calendar, ask yourself:

  • Why is this goal important to me? What will be different as a result of achieving it?
  • How will I know if I‘ve accomplished the goal? What does success look like?
  • What could get in the way of me following through? How will I get back on track if I fall off course?
  • Who can I share this goal with to hold me accountable and celebrate my progress?

By getting clear on your intention for your goals and enlisting support, you set yourself up for success before even scheduling your first session.

As you work toward your goals, remember to celebrate your progress along the way. It‘s easy to fixate on the end result, but in reality, growth happens through consistent small actions over time. Every goal session completed is a win worth acknowledging.

The Goals feature may be a relatively small tweak to your digital calendar. But it has the potential to create a massive shift in how you spend your time and, as a result, what you achieve. By letting Google find the optimal slots for your aspirations, and honoring those sessions when they appear, you make goal achievement automatic.

You may just find that your calendar becomes a powerful tool not just for managing your schedule, but for actively creating the life you want to live – one goal at a time.