Yak Shaving


‘’[MIT AI Lab, after 2000: orig. probably from a Ren & Stimpy episode.] Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.’’ *1

I learned about this from maker culture and my mentor Seth Godin.

It’s important so I wanted to share it with y’all today.

The idea is this:

You decide to work on that important paper today.

You scribble some crap onto the yellow pad, crumple it up and want to throw it in the bin.

Shit.. fresh out of garbage bags. Okay, let’s quickly get some.

But the car is out of gas. Okay, let’s get the keys.

Shit, you left them at the office but you’ll just borrow your wife’s.

Damn.. she won’t let you take them until you finally fix the garage door as you’ve promised for the past weeks.

So now you’re scouring YouTube for ‘garage door fixing’ tutorials all because you wanted to work on your paper.

Don’t fall into this trap. Instead of falling for the yak shaving trap, throw the paper in the bagless bin.

It’s very important not to let perfection get in the way of done.

When you look back at the end of the day, you’ve been very busy but haven’t accomplished anything.

This is very common among new founders. I’ve had countless (unproductive) conversations with founders who insisted they needed to spend months on business cards and website infrastructure before getting customers.

Many give up during that process and the 1% who remains.. after that ordeal still have to... you guessed it, get customers.

The best way to avoid this waste of time is by using some sort of kanban system.


This way you ‘pull’ vs. push tasks that you need to work on and you keep working on them until they’re done, preventing this ‘task’ creep.


1. The jargon file, The jargon lexicon, Glossary, Yak shaving. Retrieved from http://catb.org/jargon/html/Y/yak-shaving.html

RJ Youngling