Somewhere in the intersectional world of Ren & Stimpy* and computer coding a term emerged in the 1990’s called Yak Shaving.
Coined by an MIT Ph.D. Carlin Vieri, Yak Shaving is the experience many of us have when we set a straightforward goal but a series of seemingly random, unanticipated and even unrelated tasks appear between the goal-setting and the outcome.
-You are submitting a report on line.
-The scanner requires an update.
-The desktop computer now requires an update to be compatible with the scanner update.
-After the update your passwords need to be re-entered but you can’t remember the passwords at the moment so you request a new password and it doesn’t come through immediately.
-You realize what the password was and it no longer works because you are in process of setting a new one now.
-The updated scanner is now requiring a reboot and keeps flashing a message that the printer paper is jammed.
-Even though you do not need the printer side of the scanner or any paper to submit the report, you need to address the paper jam before proceeding.
-You can now request a new password but they require a longer password with special characters that you have never used and it requires multiple attempts.
-Now you need to save this newly created password that you know you will never remember and you pullout your phone to save it on one of your apps and notice that your office has texted you 5 times.
You are now Shaving a Yak.
Who knew this aggravating universal human experience had a name? There are endless daily permutations in every life and industry and NOW that we know the term we can notice the scenarios that tend to pitch us into the Yak Shaving arena.
No one sets out to shave a Yak, but like the unintended consequences that cascade from giving a mouse a cookie in the children’s book by Laura Numeroff**, certain tasks appear on the surface to be one-offs even though we know from experience that there are multiple actions implicit below the surface.
Yak Shaving explains why a simple to-do list that seems so achievable and drama-free on Monday morning can be a source of crippling self-doubt and emotional exhaustion by Friday afternoon.
If Yak Shaving is the unwritten action item on your to-do list week after week, it is typically a sign that your systems are in need of some attention.
Is your technology or your equipment up to date?
Are your filing and paper handling habits supportive of your responsibilities?
Are you communicating clearly with colleagues and family so that timelines work for you rather than against you?
Do you regularly underestimate the time your work takes or neglect to build in reminders to your calendar?
If you shave that Yak once in a while, just knowing the term can really help you build awareness into your week. Chronic Yak Shavers, and you know who you are, notice when recursive thinking is sending you down the wrong path.
Coaching is one of the best ways I know to build positive systems and dismantle persistent Yak Shaving. In the meantime, attack that Yak with increased awareness.
*https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101178/ [Ren & Stimpy Show]
** If You Give a Mouse a Cookie he will require milk, a straw, a napkin…