September 16, 2014

Shearing that Yak (aka Yak Shaving)

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!

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