Yak Shaving This Week

I'm yak shaving this week. When I returned from the Agile conference, my right ear didn't clear. It's all clogged now, and the left one isn't totally clear either. I have vertigo. I'm moving slowly and look drunk when I walk.

In the meantime, I have articles to write, proposals to finish, work to do. I find that in order to finish an article, I have to first do three other things, some of which involve tilting my head one way or another, taking more decongestant, chewing gum, or drinking tea.

My yak shaving isn't too onerous this week, but it feels kinda strange. Normally, I just finish a task. Not this week.

I first learned about yak shaving when I read the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to my children. I'd certainly encountered it in projects, and have since then. I didn't know this was called yak shaving until recently.

Added later because I wasn't clear: Yak shaving is when you have to do something–usually several other things–to finish the task. An example: in order to mow the lawn, you need to get a sharp blade, but you can't ask Bob next door because you didn't return his screwdriver. So you have to drive to the store to sharpen the blade. In order to drive to the store, you need gas. At the gas station, you notice your inspection has expired, so you ask them to inspect your car. They tell you that to pass inspection you need new windshield wipers, so you go to the autoparts store where you not only get windshield wipers,  but a new steering wheel cover. You go back to the gas station, they verify you have new windshield wipers, you get the inspection sticker and get to the store where they normally sharpen your lawn mover blade, and realize they've closed early today.  (does that help?)

So, I'm slow this week, both walking and writing. If my ears clear soon, I will be thrilled. If not soon, I have other alternatives.

Here's a question for you: are you yak shaving? What is preventing you from doing work quickly and easily? Is there a solution that will let you do so? It's worth looking at your work to see if you are yak shaving.

5 Replies to “Yak Shaving This Week”

  1. Try this: set one goal for the day, e.g. finish a proposal. Do that quickly but well.

    Then spend the remainder of the day in bed. The rest will help you heal faster. Working half speed all day only delays healing and prolongs the yak shaving.

  2. OK – I’ll bite. What exactly is yak shaving? Is that like working on such an enormous task that you see no progress?

  3. There is a treatment for this called candeling or something like that at high end spa’s, look into it, removes wax quickly. Meanwhile, what prevents me from doing work quickly and easily is that it is so easy and quick that I leave it to the last minute, then I just get it done. Not sure what Yak Shaving means either.. Even big tasks, I just break them down into smaller tasks that again become easy to do, so I just do them and then do the next one and so on and so on. But occasionally, I just let allow myself to intentionally do nothing at all, despite deadlines because I know, I’ll get it done.. and so will you!

  4. Sounds like you need to have your ear cleaned by an ear specialist.
    I had this clogged feeling sometimes, too, and cleaning the ears (just by flushing them with water for example by using a big syringe) will do wonders for your hearing and feeling!
    Still I’d go to a ear doc, since one could damage your ears if you are not careful.

  5. Sometimes I think a little yak shaving is good.

    The other day I had to mend something that had ripped but in getting the needle & thread, the thread spindle slipped out of my hand and rolled itself right behind the washing machine (argh). I had to move the washing machine to get to it. When I did, noticed – ewwww, dusty!! So I grabbed a broom and swept behind the machine. In doing so, noticed ewwww, broom closet dusty too, so swept that too. Took a bit because I had to move some things out of the closet to do so. But in the end, less dust == good.

    Now, I COULD be really good and just sweep these areas on a certain schedule, but then I could easily wind up spending a lot more time & planning on it then is really necessary. Why not just take care of it when it gets to the point of actually impacting me?

    The same I think could be said of cleaning code. I could just sit down and clean my code till I’m blue in the face and then I’d have pretty code but no new business value. Wouldn’t it be better if I just cleaned it as I came across it? As I’m trying to extend the code or otherwise interface with it, if I find a part that isn’t clear or well tested (and thus is impacting me) then clean the code at THAT point.

    So… I dunno, I think sometimes a little yak shaving is a good thing, helps us keep our lives a little cleaner, maybe?

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