Jason Lengstorf on Yak Shaving

Roger Stringer • March 13, 2019

2 min read

Jason Lengstorf on Yak Shaving

Interesting read from Jason Lengstorf about Yak Shaving:

One of my favorite phrases in the tech world is “yak shaving”.

It’s commonly used to reference the tedious chores that need to be performed before the Real Work™ can be done.

Most of us have run into this before: we want to make coffee, then realize we’re out of beans and need to make a run to the store, so we jump in the car — only to realize that we’re almost out of gas and need to make a pit stop if we want to make it back home again.


“Yak shaving” gets tossed around as a pejorative in meetings to imply inefficiency or wasteful work: “This is a bad idea because it’s going to introduce a shitload of yak shaving we don’t have time for.”

But sometimes we describe “any work that I don’t personally find enjoyable” as yak shaving — things like planning and measurement, for example. This decreases the perceived value of really important work, and sometimes leads to skipping it altogether.

Not all meaningful work is fun. Not all boring work is meaningless. This is a lesson that’s dangerously easy to forget, because the modern attitude toward work makes it extremely easy to confuse “motion” with “progress”, and “busy” with “productive”.


The most important question we face in our working lives is this: am I working on the right things?

And unless we take the time to do the meta-work and understand what progress actually looks like, we’re unable to answer that question confidently. Without handling the yak shaving that ensures we’re pointed in the right direction, we have no way of knowing if we’re going in the right direction or merely grinding ourselves down with hard work that isn’t getting us anywhere.

We’re faced with a choice: we can create the illusion of progress by “staying busy”, or we can do the meta-work — boring though it may be — and guarantee progress toward our goals.

So what’ll it be?

Jason makes a lot of good points in this post, so make sure you go read the entire piece.

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