Behavioral Science

The Necessity Of Shaving The Yak

by . November 6th, 2014

Have you ever been in a rabbit hole of tasks that you need to complete before finishing that task that you wanted to do in the first place? You, my friend, are shaving the yak.

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Hal from Malcolm in the Middle shaving the yak (and not making meth)

Shaving the yak was actually a programming term coined by then MIT student Carlin Vieri after watching the Ren & Stimpy episode, “Yak Shaving Day”, where characters did pointless things while waiting for a shaven yak to come by.

Now, the term means an apparently useless activity which leads you to eventually solve a larger problem.

It was popularized by American author and entrepreneur Seth Godin in his 2005 blog post:

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.

 

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Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 

We’ve all shaven yaks.

Admittedly, I have just finished shaving my yak while writing this post. My initial goal was to finish a post for this day. For a change, instead of surfing the internet looking for inspiration, I set out to ask one of my programmer friends for a topic. So I log in on Facebook… but I set my account to require a security code when accessed using an unfamiliar IP.

Alright, lemme take my phone then and wait for the security code. After waiting for 15 minutes and not receiving a text, I realized my phone is malfunctioning again so I restart it.

After restarting it, my phone showed a low battery notification. So I started looking for my charger… which I forgot at home.

Luckily, my workmate had one and I finally got a hold on my programmer friend. And told me about yak shaving. So here I am writing about it.

So, is yak-shaving a bad thing?

Not necessarily. You’re trying to be productive, but obstacles come up that hinder you from meeting your goal. What’s bad, however, is going out of the way and end up giving the yak a foot spa.

Nils has the best toys.

Photo credit: waferbaby

There’s really nothing you can do to prevent the metaphorical yak from growing its fur. What you can do, however, is focus on your first task.

Shave only what is necessary.

When stuck in a plethora of seemingly useless tasks, never lose sight of the big picture. Go ahead and do the chore, but only enough for you to finish your first task. Don’t stick your head further into the rabbit hole. Make a note of what remains to be done and then go back to your original goal.

So if you are currently doing something that you never planned to do, go ask yourself if you’re still shaving the yak, or you’ve gone way off-track. Then laugh at how absurd life can be.

 

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Have your own stories about yak shaving? Share them in the comment box below!

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