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Yak Shaving

Yak Shaving: Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on. (oh wow, turns out this is the website of Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, famous book about open source and the free software movement)

You’re yak shaving when:

  • You need to wash up before you can cook;
  • You want to upgrade a critical app but find yourself knee-deep in your photos and WhatsApp attachments so that you can free up enough space to upgrade Android so that you can get back to installing the app that will allow you to do what you actually set out to do in the first place;
  • You plan to nip to the shops on your bike to buy vegetables but end up walking in the other direction to the bike shop after discovering you had a flat tyre, searching for your bike pump, the popping your past-its-sell-by-date inner tube;
  • The worst type of Yak Shaving is when you spend an inordinate amount cleaning up the mess you made (or worse, patching up the injury you did yourself) when you reaped the consequences of your previous negligence (the clutter on the stairs you tripped over, the blunt knife that slipped on the onion skin).

The more people you live with – and especially the more people under 18 you live with – the more yaks you will find yourself shaving on a daily basis.

The antidote to yak shaving is to commit to some kind of practice of orderliness and maintenance. I’ve recently taken to asking myself, “What would an orderly person do?”

The answer is – as far as possible – to shave yaks promptly on discovery as a gift to my future self.

Fuller explanations of Yak Shaving here, and here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...