Writing is the beast that has been chasing me around for the last month. I’ve really struggled with finding a way to organise literature that I am supposed to review, and finding a way to focus on it without getting either overwhelmed or distracted.

I’ve been trying to use a plain text editor to focus my efforts, and I invested in Byword due to its ability to work across my Mac and i-devices, however it seemed it was a touch too minimalist to work properly. I then distracted myself with evaluations of tools such as Scrivener and Ulysses 3, however this was just more yak shearing in action (I can’t write without the proper tools!), so I decided to see what I could do with what I have – and I’m back to Byword.

So this is the layout that I’m going with at the moment. I’m working for 4 weeks in the Academic Writing Club to try and have a degree of accountability, and have started off with small goals.

Here is my layout and thoughts behind my approach. I’m putting it here as a reminder to myself, as well as a useful reference for anyone that is stuck as well. I use Sente for PDF/article management, but any tool that allows you to tag your articles (eg. Mendeley, Endnote) could be used in a similar fashion to the second screen shot below.

Hopefully I’ll have something good (aka actual writing) to show my supervisors in 10 days or so.

Writing in Byword – a useful screen layout

(click on the screenshot below to see a larger version)


Focusing in Sente – using tagging to create a useful view that doesn’t overwhelm or distract

(click on the screenshot below to see a larger version)



1280px-Bos_grunniens_at_Letdar_on_Annapurna_CircuitMy supervisor introduced me to the concept of yak-shearing (or shaving as it is known in some circles), and I’ve found that I tend to be an expert on this topic! (That is, I’m good at it!)

I’ve used it a few times recently, and so I am forced to find a good definition of it!

The best definition I’ve found to date is from this site:

You see, yak shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing somestupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to whatyou’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causalrelations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task.

Seth Godin apparently (unconfirmed) put together this example of the process of yak shearing:

Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do.

“I want to wax the car today.”

“Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I’ll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.”

“But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.”

“But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor’s EZPass…”

“Bob won’t lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.”

“And we haven’t returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it.”

And the next thing you know, you’re at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.

Whether or not this is accurately attributed, the sentiment is correct – it’s a form of procrastination based on rationalising each task as “required” in order to complete the task that you need to do. Invariably it results in you putting off the task that needs to be done (probably because in my case I subconsciously don’t want to do it).

Getting around it? There are a bunch of strategies, but the best one for me is to keep coming back to that to-do list. In designing my tasks, I need to break it down in to sub-tasks. This helps me identify any yaks in advance, in some cases. When I find myself off on a task that seems to be wasting my time, I need to do a reality check. I don’t always remember to do this, but I’m getting better.

BTW – this post isn’t yak shearing. It’s straight-up procrastination!

Thanks, Ciorstan!