how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Yasmin Green, Researcher at Google

Yasmin Green.
Yasmin Green. Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Yasmin Green is the head of research and development at Jigsaw, a think tank at Google tasked with using technology to confront geopolitical conflict around the world. She has worked there for ten years, five of them in New York. Green has one child with her husband, musician and filmmaker Adam Green, with whom she produced the movie Adam Green’s Aladdin. She gets to work at 9:30 a.m. most mornings, but occasionally finds the time to work from home. She keeps two calendars, a public one and a private one, and she carries around notebooks in which she writes her thoughts before meetings. Here is how she gets it all done.

On doing her job while also making a movie:
I was pregnant at the time. I have a 17-month-old daughter now, and when we were making the movie, something went wrong every day. I really admire people who work on film full-time because they must really thrive off of that, having to think on their feet.

I don’t know if you’ve gone back to something you’ve written before and reread it after a while and then were like, “Oh, it’s good!” You know? It’s nice to watch it with other people. It was everybody from producers and press to the guy who made the sandwiches for the crew. It’s the ultimate collaborative project, a movie.

On the need to determine her own schedule:
I took three weeks off for the six-week shoot, and I also definitely multitasked a lot. I said, “These are the number of hours that I’m in the office.” Before the baby I was definitely the first one in, the last one out. Not because I was trying to impress anyone, but just because I was a bit of a slave to my own appetite. And now I’m in so much a deficit.

I’m at a point where I actually feel a responsibility to set an example for other women that I work with. Your career should work for you, especially if you work in a place where you can make that happen. There’s a lady on my team now that just got pregnant, and I want her to have a really rad experience of what it’s like to be pregnant on the team and on maternity on the team, and to come back as a working mom.

On the myth of “having it all”:
It just doesn’t even occur to me. I’m still figuring it out. I think that you can have a full career and you can be a dedicated mother. I think you can have both of them. I just don’t think you can do anything else or get sleep [laughs]. I sleep like five hours a night, but before the baby I usually slept eight. I think you do need to sleep, and I’m not excited about the prospect of that being the way forever, but that just is the way now. I just sleep a lot less. So I come home, I pick Zeba up from day care, I get home. Adam and I have a schedule, so we alternate days.

On the necessary evil of working on your off days:
Sometimes when you have a lot going on, you take that one day off work and you’re like, “All right, I’m going to get everything done today.” And the fact that there’s no fire under your ass, you don’t get anything done. And then other times you’re like, “Yes, yes! I’m in the zone! I’m gonna karate chop this block! Okay, bring it on!” I really felt super pumped on Sunday. My week starts on Sunday. Just to take stock of everything that’s happening and Zen a little bit. “What are my priorities of this week?”

But other people don’t start their week on Sunday, and I’m people’s boss, so I don’t want to rain on people’s weekends. I try to be disciplined about not sending emails on weekends. But I definitely start organizing how I’m gonna go about doing things for the week. Sometimes I want to make sure that other people are gonna be ready to discuss what I want to discuss in a certain meeting. I feel like we go from one meeting to another where like every meeting ends with, “Okay, this is what we’re gonna do.” And it’s never documented anywhere. Everyone’s like, “Yeah, great. I’ll do that.” And then before they’ve even digested what it is they need to do, they run to the next meeting where they’re talking about what they’re gonna do. It’s just accumulating action items.

On accepting limitations:
It’s nice having this new constraint in my mind, which is “everything is not possible.” I think before I felt like everything that was on my plate, I should do. It’s like when you go to a restaurant and they serve you a dish and when you sit down, you’re like, “The portion’s really large,” and you’re a little bit daunted by it. “I guess I’m gonna have to eat it all?” But that is how I used to feel about what was on my plate. And now I don’t feel like that. It’s almost like somehow I give myself the permission self-consciously to just do the piece that I think is the most important because I know I can’t do it all.

On the importance of maintaining a strict schedule:
I tell people that I get in at 9:30 because that’s the time I get in when I do day-care drop-off. I can get in earlier the days that I don’t have to drop Zeba off, but someone once gave me the advice that whatever rules of engagement you wanna set for being a working mom are absolutely fine. You just have to be 100 percent about sticking to it. If you say, “I’m not gonna answer emails between this time,” or if you say, “I’m gonna be up at 5:30,” do that. Don’t ever break your own rules, because then you’re conditioning people to break them too. I think that’s really invaluable. Even if I could stay later, because I don’t have to pick up Zeba that day, I still go home at that time. And I feel emboldened to hold the team accountable. I think that that’s a change for the whole team because I have a baby.

On the value of a notebook:
I carry around a notepad — I want to say I have seven or eight notepads — and I just make notes before every meeting, just to open my thoughts. What have I got to give to this meeting? Let me just write down some notes.

On eating, cooking, wellness, and health:
Working out is really important to me because I am addicted to multitasking, but I know that it’s kind of a flawed premise — I mean, we can’t really multitask. When I run, I can’t run and check my phone or run and clean my house. It’s like forced meditation to me.

I am the least domesticated lady that you’ve ever met, and thankfully my husband is too. I mean, we used to eat out every single meal. When we were dating, we were living in the East Village and our goal was to eat for $25. We’re like, “we eat out all the time and we don’t want to throw away all our money, so let’s set a budget.” There were really cool spots in the East Village that you could eat, including tip, for 25 bucks for two people. There’s an Indian fast-food place on Houston called the Punjabi Deli where you can get a bowl of rice and curry for four dollars. We do get Fresh Direct, and I’ll cook if it can be done within ten minutes.

On trying not to complain:
I asked Adam a while ago to do an experiment where neither of us complain. We were complaining about Aladdin a lot. We had a code word — twins — to call the other person out so you don’t have to say, “You’re complaining, that’s wrong”; we just say the word and the person realizes. And I realized the one thing I say a lot is “I don’t have time.”

I cut it out. I don’t say it anymore. It took me like six months. It’s been really enlightening for me — I don’t think in terms of “I don’t have time.” I just think in terms of this is my plate — what parts of the food do I most want to eat and how am I going to do it?

How a Researcher at Google Handles Her Week