Are You Yak-Shaving or Creating More Value?

You might have noticed I missed writing last week’s question-of-the-week. I definitely noticed.

Why did I miss a post? I’m not traveling. I have a handle on my client work, workshops, and writing. (A tenuous hold, but I’m still hanging on.)

No, it was this website.

I posted last month’s newsletter, and then I realized I had a technical problem. I thought solving the problem would only take me a few minutes.

Half an hour later, I was still discovering and fixing little problems.

I couldn’t decide if I was yak-shaving or creating value. So I thought I’d write an early post this week and examine the difference.

How Yak-Shaving Starts

You start with a reasonable goal. I wanted to link to my older newsletters in my current newsletter. That’s when I realized that all of the older newsletters were missing their tags. (In WordPress, I can tag each post or page so you can more easily find it later.) Okay, I put a note to do that later. And I realized the Newsletter page didn’t actually point to the newsletters.

I got my web guy to fix that.

He did and I realized I had more problems, all related to tags.

Uh oh.

I wanted to create value for you. Was I yak-shaving?

According to the origin of yak-shaving:

Yak shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causal relations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task.

We start something in service of greater value. Then, we do more tasks that somehow relate to that original task. However, sometimes, those related tasks don’t add much value overall.

In my case, I discovered I should (or could!):

  • Change the post author
  • Add tags
  • Reorganize some of the content

That’s when I realized some of this work might create more value—but not all of it.

I needed to define the value of my work.

Define the Value of the Work

I tend to use this approach to define the value of my work:

  • Who will benefit from this work?
  • What will they be able to do when I complete this work?
  • Are there constraints on the work that I want to manage as I proceed?

When it comes to the content here, you, my readers, benefit. I also benefit if I tag and categorize properly. We both benefit from my organization. You benefit from the ease of the public-facing search. I benefit from that, and the behind-the-scenes search.

All good reasons, right?

Yeah, not so much. I stopped after the bare minimum tagging. (The CAL tips.) I still need to return to that. And I will—at some point.

See Your Reality

I talk a lot about seeing your reality on this site. Here are some questions that might help you see if you are yak-shaving. Do you ever:

  • Wonder if you’re contributing to the real work with this task?
  • Get that feeling you’re mucking about in quicksand and the work will pull you under?
  • Realize that this work just isn’t that important?

Then, you might be in the midst of yak-shaving. You might check in with someone and ask for help. Or to work with a colleague (or a team) to see if you can offer more value?

And if the work is more valuable than you thought? Excellent! Continue until you finish the work.

As always, clarify your choices and decide if you are yak-shaving or creating more value. Sometimes, I’m not so sure.

That’s the question this week: Are you yak-shaving or creating more value?

(I hope to ask another question this week, but now I know I’ve asked my question.)

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