Every Monday morning, Noah Weiss rates his weekend on a scale from 1 to 10. If he had a steady hum of plans, like say, a show, a date night, and a brunch, it might rate a 9.2. If he sat on his couch all day Saturday, that weekend might get a dismal 4.0. A day spent horizontal, in sweatpants, surrounded by pillows sounds like a 10 to me. But the VP of product management for Foursquare aspires to “awesome,” which to him, means balance: a mixture of social activities sprinkled with some relaxation and maybe even some work.
The weekend ranking system is an extension of Weiss’s workweek grading scale, a self evaluation he has done every week for the last three years. Each Friday, he reflects on the previous five days and assigns it a number grade, which he posts to Foursquare’s internal messaging service, Snippets. A high score doesn’t necessarily indicate the amount of stuff he accomplished. His general duties as a manager don’t even figure into the system. Instead, a number closer to 10 reflects his overall creativity. “I want to be accountable for creating new things, creating new ideas,” he told Fast Company.
For Weiss, that means thinking up useful features for Foursquare based on the company’s data and technical capabilities. For example, he is tasked with turning the app’s location-based awareness into something useful. “We know you’re at a restaurant, so what’s a cool experience? Is it that we want to be able to ping that person on the phone? Is it that we just want to give you a passive history of all the places that you’ve been?” Weiss suggested.
Weiss says his weekly check-in increases the probability of thinking up possibilities for the future of Foursquare. “A lot of time people mistake creativity for serendipity,” he said. The most creative people are high-frequency workers, who structure their days in a way that encourages more attempts to produce something creative–a theory Weiss borrowed from Stephen King.
In On Writing the prolific horror novelist discusses how he forces himself to sit and work for a certain, set amount of time each day. Work breeds creativity, King writes:
There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’ a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic.
Many writers have similar rituals to draw out their ideas.
Weiss’s ritual is his ratings system, which ensures accountability. The workweek, while filled with other obligations, exists for Weiss to create. Reviewing his progress once a week and blasting it out to his coworkers reminds him to take the time and energy to do that. “It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t reflect on it,” he said.
It’s the quantified self applied to work, but Weiss doesn’t take the number part too seriously. The values he assigns are nearly arbitrary: There’s no method for what distinguishes a 9.0 from a 9.1, for example. The grade serves as a general gauge for how Weiss feels he performed that week. “Without having that moment of self-evaluation–even if it’s false quantification–without having that charge to improve on a daily or weekly basis, you can’t correct that behavior.”
How does the weekend factor into all of this? We could come back to Stephen King’s theory: More work equals more creativity. Why should Weiss limit his productivity to just Monday through Friday? But, actually, it’s just about brunch: “I should have an awesome weekend, too,” Weiss said.