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moridinamael comments on In support of Yak Shaving - Less Wrong

13 Post author: Elo 16 March 2017 05:31AM

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Comment author: moridinamael 16 March 2017 12:03:54PM 7 points [-]

This perspective suggests "don't yak shave" is a classic deepity. The superficial true meaning is "don't waste time on unimportant sub tasks" and the clearly false but immediately actionable meaning is "don't do subtasks". If you've already clearly identified which tasks are on the critical path and which are not, the yak shaving heuristic is useless, and if you haven't, it's harmfully misleading.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 16 March 2017 02:47:56PM 4 points [-]

I think the post is suggesting rather that "unimportant sub task" and "important sub task" is a mostly fallacious distinction. Omitting lots and lots of somewhat unimportant sub tasks, even though they really were not very important taken individually, can lead to very bad effects overall. Mark Forster notes that if you keep "prioritizing" in such a way that you are always doing the "important" things, and consequently never doing the less important ones, sooner or later they will show you just how unimportant they are.

Comment author: Viliam 17 March 2017 04:23:03PM *  2 points [-]

Things that could possibly go wrong when ignoring "unimportant things":

  • you were wrong about "this is unlikely to happen" (see 1, 2);
  • you were wrong about "and if it happens, I can fix it quickly" (see 3);
  • things go wrong at an inconvenient moment when you are even more busy than today (and today you already believe to be too busy to fix the "unimportant thing");
  • things are connected, so when the unlikely event happens, dozen "unimportant things" fail at the same time.

Arguably, unfixed problems can encourage creating more problems. If you decide to ignore some aspect at some step, you are more likely to ignore the same aspect at the following steps, because you already decided to not think about X.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 24 March 2017 03:01:25PM 0 points [-]

I am saying that you can be right that ignoring the thing will be unlikely to cause problems. But if something has a 1 in 1000 chance of causing a problem when you ignore it, but you ignore it 5000 times, then you likely will have at least few problems.

In a similar way, you might think "the total negative effects of ignoring this particular case will be necessarily very small," you might be right. But if you ignore the same thing 5000 times and the effect is multiplied by 5000, the total effect is not necessarily small.

I am not necessarily disagreeing with you. I am just saying that the thing might really and truly be unimportant in the same way you think it is; but that does not mean it is unimportant if you ignore it forever and in large numbers of cases.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 March 2017 02:45:38PM *  4 points [-]

The superficial true meaning is "don't waste time on unimportant sub tasks" and the clearly false but immediately actionable meaning is "don't do subtasks".

Not quite.

The meaning is "If you have constructed a very long chain of prerequisites, consider that it's likely to be suboptimal and look for a direct shortcut to the terminal goal".