Shaving the yak.

Steve Hopkins taught me a funny saying the other day.

We were working together as he was going through his inbox, when he threw his hands up in despair,

“uh…we’re yak-shaving”.

Yak-shaving is that time when you set out to do something and end up completely off-track – bogged by little details, that actually seem crucial and dependent on the goal at the time, but later turn out to be irrelevant.

We’ve all been there.

When you realise you are so far obscured from the original goal you set out to achieve …you may as well be shaving a yak.

Merlin Mann and Danny O’Brien give this example in MAKE Magazine:

You start out deciding to tidy your room and you realize that in order to do that you’ll need some more trash bags, so you need to go to the shops, which will involve you getting out the car, but the car needs gas, so you’ll need to go to the gas station first, which means you should probably find your gas discount card, which involves finding your keys, which are in the room somewhere…

It is such a good term, and makes me think about areas in my life where I might need to pause, reevaluate and adjust the course to get back on with the task at hand.

Some common yak-shave situations I stumble on in daily life

- Anything with A LOT of stakeholders in a project

- Running an event or party

- Making a creative decision

Does what you are doing square with your goals? Or do you find yourself off in some fiddly task that actually bears no relation to what you are meant to be doing…and…hang on a second….it looks like it is in fact creating dominoes of dependent tasks to finish in order to reach the end goal?!

Well, when you find yourself shaving a yak, proclaim it! and then refer to Merlin Mann’s handy post and give yourself a mini-review.

“I think that lavishing yourself with 10 or 15 minutes of mini-review doesn’t just get your head in order. It also causes you to consider seriously for a moment whether a given, seemingly important yak is really worth shaving at all.”

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