In support of yak shaving part 2

part 1 of yak shav­ing. It wan nec­es­sary to write part two be­cause part 1 was not clear enough about what the prob­lem is. I don’t dis­agree with the com­ments, and I apol­o­gise for not pre­sent­ing it bet­ter in the first round. (part 1 on less­wrong)

Origi­nal post: http://​​bear­lamp.com.au/​​yak-shav­ing-2/​​


You de­cide to­day is a day for get­ting things done, it is af­ter all your day off. You do what any per­son con­cerned with work does. You sit down at your desk. When you do you no­tice two empty tea cups and a one-sip-left in a can of soft drink. Not lik­ing a messy en­vi­ron­ment you figure you will quickly tidy up. You take the teacups and put them on the kitchen bench. You take the can to the re­cy­cling bin when you re­al­ise it’s full and needs to be taken out to the garbage bin.

You take the rub­bish to the garage and re­al­ise tonight is bin night any­way so you put the re­cy­cling bin. While you are at it you put all the bins to the curb. You get back to the kitchen and find the teacup is ac­tu­ally sit­ting on a pile of un­opened mail. You open what looks like the bills in the pile and men­tally note to deal with them when you get back to your desk. so you leave them on the kitchen table to take back with you.

You get to the teacups and re­al­ise you are out of dish­wash­ing de­ter­gent. You will have to go buy some. You go to get the car keys and no­tice the wash­ing bas­ket is full. You de­cide to quickly put the wash­ing on be­fore you go. That will save time. You get in the car and dis­cover it’s nearly out of petrol. And the su­per­mar­ket is it the other di­rec­tion from the petrol sta­tion.

While you are out you grab a coffee and lunch be­fore get­ting back. Then you hit traf­fic and get home quite late. You bring in the mail but no­tice the mailbox post is rot­ting. you have some spare wood in the garage but your work bench has the rem­nants of when you tried to fix the shelf for your bath­room. You could just fix the mailbox post with ca­ble ties but how long would that last?

With a stub­born de­ter­mi­na­tion to get SOMETHING done to­day you take the mailbox into your work bench, and start work­ing on top of the other pro­ject be­cause you ba­si­cally have no choice any more. When you go to mea­sure and mark the wood it seems like ev­ery pen­cil needs sharp­en­ing, as does the saw. The drill has a flat bat­tery, the last drill bit of the right size is bro­ken, you have only three screws that are gal­vanised and one that is not. you drill the guide hole too small, bend a screw in the pro­cess of get­ting it into the wood, slip and wound the bath­room shelf pro­ject, and even­tu­ally re-as­sem­ble a mailbox.

You get the mailbox on the fence but it’s get­ting dark and you need din­ner. You can’t help but won­der where the day went. It feels like you worked hard all day but you barely have any­thing to show for it.

To­mor­row you are back at work but maybe you need to take an­other day off, a tan­ta­l­is­ing prospect… You have a deal with your boss that you can take the day off only if you could ex­plain why you need an­other day off. Of course that might re­quire writ­ing a note, which might re­quire a work­ing pen from the sta­tion­ary cup­board, or send­ing an email, which you swore to not do be­fore read­ing all the un­read ones that are wait­ing for you… And it would be nice to pay those bills.


In part 1 I said:

The prob­lem here is that you spent all day shav­ing yaks (see also “there’s a hole in my bucket“). In a startup that trans­lates to not do­ing the tasks that get cus­tomers – the tasks which get money and ac­tu­ally make an im­pact, say “play­ing with the UI”. It’s easy to see why such anti-yak shav­ing sen­ti­ment would ex­ist (see also: bikeshed­ding, re­ar­rang­ing deck chairs on the titanic, ham­ming ques­tions). You can spend a whole day do­ing a whole lot of noth­ings; get­ting to bed and won­der what you ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished that day (hint: a whole lot of run­ning in cir­cles).

It’s not just one prob­lem, but a se­ries of prob­lems that come to your at­ten­tion in a se­quence.

this sort of be­havi­our is not like bikeshed­ding at all. Nor is it do­ing in­signifi­cant things un­der the guise of “real work”. In­stead this is about tack­ling what stands in the way of your prob­lem. In prob­lem solv­ing in the real world, Don’t yak shave” is not what I have found to be the solu­tion.

I pro­pose that yak shav­ing pre­sents a very im­por­tant sign that things are bro­ken.

The sce­nario above is my ver­sion of hell in­car­nate. Real life is prob­a­bly not that bad but things like that come up all the time. They act as open loops, tax your mind (kind of like the de­bat­able ego de­ple­tion con­cept) and don’t re­ally rep­re­sent you be­ing in a good place.

If some­thing is bro­ken, and you are liv­ing with it, that’s not ac­cept­able. You need a sys­tem in your life to reg­u­larly get around to fix­ing it. Notepads, re­views, list keep­ing, set time aside for do­ing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.


Ac­cru­ing or re­solv­ing prob­lems?

A ques­tion worth ask­ing is whether you are in your life at pre­sent caus­ing a build up of prob­lems, a de­crease of prob­lems, or roughly keep­ing them about the same level.

If you are a per­son who keeps quan­tified track­ing of your­self—this might be eas­ier to an­swer. than if you do less track­ing. maybe you have to do lists, maybe some notepads, any way to know if you are get­ting bet­ter or worse at this.

The an­swer is prob­a­bly some­thing like, “up and down”. You do both, over time. Things build up and then things re­solve. If you see things as hav­ing always built up, or grad­u­ally got­ten worse… Maybe it’s time to stop. Think. Ask your­self...

What’s go­ing on?


Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.

Part 1: In sup­port of yak shav­ing. I would recom­mend a quick read over it. I don’t hon­estly want to quote the en­tire thing here but it’s so so so so so rele­vant.

Origi­nal post: http://​​bear­lamp.com.au/​​yak-shav­ing-2/​​

Up next: Work­ing with mul­ti­ple prob­lems at once