Yak Shaving and Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Yak shaving refers to a task, that leads you to perform another related task and so on, and so on — all distracting you from your primary meta task or goal.

You want to bake a cake, so you head to the kitchen.

You realise that you don’t have some of the ingredients. 

You decide to go to the store pick it up.

So you decide to take the car.

While driving you realise that the drive was not smooth.

So you decided to take the car to the repair shop.

On the way you felt thirsty do stop for some cold bottled water

While drinking the cold water your tooth started hurting. It was the sensitive tooth which needed treating

So you pick up the phone to make an appointment with the dentist.

When you keep the phone down, you see that your friend has called you over

So then you decide you need something to take for your friend as you cannot go empty handed.

You get the story. Whatever happened to that cake?

In programming

You set to deploy a website

But before you do, you need access

Get the  passwords

Need to know deployment techniques and use them

Figure out the web farm

Assess scaling capabilities

Web framework

Whatever happened to fixing the original deployment? Sure, all of these other things are good on their own, but they are distractions.

Yak shaving” (or “shaving a yak”) was coined by Carlin Vieri, an MIT Ph.D., in the ’90s after watching an episode of “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

Yak shaving refers to a task, that leads you to perform another related task and so on ( and some have no obvious relationship to the task you are working on), and so on — all distracting you from your primary meta task or goal. 

“Going down the Rabbit Hole” is another terminology

In short: Stay focused on the task at hand, and don’t shave that yak!

More on the origin of the term “yak shaving” Carlin Vieri said:

As for “Ren & Stimpy,” I used to play hockey late on Tuesday nights. I would have dinner at midnight Tuesdays and watch TV, and I saw the “Yak Shaving Day” episode. I thought it was so odd, that later when I was struggling to overnight a document (getting permission from an admin, setting up a DHL account, getting a PO, all that nonsense), I told my officemate I was yak shaving. Over the next few weeks/months, I tried to get folks around the lab to use the term, and Jeremy Brown really liked it. He used it in his GSB post a couple of years after I left the lab

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