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In support of yak shaving part 2

3 Post author: Elo 26 April 2017 01:41AM

part 1 of yak shaving.  It wan necessary to write part two because part 1 was not clear enough about what the problem is.  I don't disagree with the comments, and I apologise for not presenting it better in the first round. (part 1 on lesswrong)

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/yak-shaving-2/


You decide today is a day for getting things done, it is after all your day off.  You do what any person concerned with work does.  You sit down at your desk.  When you do you notice two empty tea cups and a one-sip-left in a can of soft drink.  Not liking a messy environment you figure you will quickly tidy up.  You take the teacups and put them on the kitchen bench.  You take the can to the recycling bin when you realise it's full and needs to be taken out to the garbage bin.

You take the rubbish to the garage and realise tonight is bin night anyway so you put the recycling bin.  While you are at it you put all the bins to the curb.  You get back to the kitchen and find the teacup is actually sitting on a pile of unopened mail.  You open what looks like the bills in the pile and mentally note to deal with them when you get back to your desk.  so you leave them on the kitchen table to take back with you.

You get to the teacups and realise you are out of dishwashing detergent.  You will have to go buy some.  You go to get the car keys and notice the washing basket is full.  You decide to quickly put the washing on before you go.  That will save time.  You get in the car and discover it's nearly out of petrol.  And the supermarket is it the other direction from the petrol station.

While you are out you grab a coffee and lunch before getting back.  Then you hit traffic and get home quite late.  You bring in the mail but notice the mailbox post is rotting.  you have some spare wood in the garage but your work bench has the remnants of when you tried to fix the shelf for your bathroom.  You could just fix the mailbox post with cable ties but how long would that last?

With a stubborn determination to get SOMETHING done today you take the mailbox into your work bench, and start working on top of the other project because you basically have no choice any more.  When you go to measure and mark the wood it seems like every pencil needs sharpening, as does the saw.  The drill has a flat battery, the last drill bit of the right size is broken, you have only three screws that are galvanised and one that is not.  you drill the guide hole too small, bend a screw in the process of getting it into the wood, slip and wound the bathroom shelf project, and eventually re-assemble a mailbox.  

You get the mailbox on the fence but it's getting dark and you need dinner.  You can't help but wonder where the day went.  It feels like you worked hard all day but you barely have anything to show for it.

Tomorrow you are back at work but maybe you need to take another day off, a tantalising prospect...  You have a deal with your boss that you can take the day off only if you could explain why you need another day off.  Of course that might require writing a note, which might require a working pen from the stationary cupboard, or sending an email, which you swore to not do before reading all the unread ones that are waiting for you...  And it would be nice to pay those bills.


In part 1 I said:

The problem here is that you spent all day shaving yaks (see also “there’s a hole in my bucket“).  In a startup that translates to not doing the tasks that get customers – the tasks which get money and actually make an impact, say “playing with the UI”.  It’s easy to see why such anti-yak shaving sentiment would exist (see also: bikeshedding, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, hamming questions).  You can spend a whole day doing a whole lot of nothings; getting to bed and wonder what you actually accomplished that day (hint: a whole lot of running in circles).

It’s not just one problem, but a series of problems that come to your attention in a sequence.

this sort of behaviour is not like bikeshedding at all.  Nor is it doing insignificant things under the guise of “real work”.  Instead this is about tackling what stands in the way of your problem.  In problem solving in the real world, Don’t yak shave” is not what I have found to be the solution.

I propose that yak shaving presents a very important sign that things are broken.

The scenario above is my version of hell incarnate.  Real life is probably not that bad but things like that come up all the time.  They act as open loops, tax your mind (kind of like the debatable ego depletion concept) and don't really represent you being in a good place.

If something is broken, and you are living with it, that’s not acceptable.  You need a system in your life to regularly get around to fixing it.  Notepadsreviews, list keeping, set time aside for doing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.


Accruing or resolving problems?

A question worth asking is whether you are in your life at present causing a build up of problems, a decrease of problems, or roughly keeping them about the same level.

If you are a person who keeps quantified tracking of yourself - this might be easier to answer. than if you do less tracking.  maybe you have to do lists, maybe some notepads, any way to know if you are getting better or worse at this.

The answer is probably something like, "up and down".  You do both, over time.  Things build up and then things resolve.  If you see things as having always built up, or gradually gotten worse...  Maybe it's time to stop.  Think.  Ask yourself...

What's going on?


Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.  

Part 1: In support of yak shaving.  I would recommend a quick read over it.  I don't honestly want to quote the entire thing here but it's so so so so so relevant.

Original post:  http://bearlamp.com.au/yak-shaving-2/

Up next: Working with multiple problems at once

Comments (2)

Comment author: Error 26 April 2017 11:34:59PM *  4 points [-]

It seems to me that the form of yak shaving you describe is a maintenance problem. The things in your life that are broken, are broken because they require maintenance that hasn't been performed. Until it suddenly becomes an urgent necessity.

You can fix that by doing all the required yak shaving...maybe. But the most dedicated yak shaving routine will fail if your yak herd has expanded until its maintenance cost exceeds all available time.

Instead, own fewer yaks. Figure out what in your environment requires maintenance. Then automate it, outsource it, or get rid of it. Join a makerspace instead of having your own workbench. Electronicise and (preferably) automate all your bills. Get rid of anything that 1. doesn't see regular use, and 2. is prone to requiring shaving. Hire a housekeeper. Rent an apartment where management is responsible for things that break instead of you -- if you can afford it, rent one that does valet trash and laundry. Get amazon prime and get used to waiting two days for anything you have to buy. Then never go shopping for non-perishables in person again. If you live somewhere that you can get groceries delivered, do that too.

Edit: Use services like Fancyhands for fourth quadrant stuff that you nonetheless still want done.

A great time to do this sort of life-cleaning is when you move -- it's easier to overcome the "but what if I need it?" mental roadblock if you can reply "but if I junk it, it's that much less I have to pack and unpack." Make laziness work for you.

(not coincidentally, I am doing literally this right now)