Are you shaving your Yak, or just getting distracted?


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yak shaving or distractionThought that may get your attention!

Have you ever heard of the phrase “shaving your yak”?

I know I hadn’t until a few years back, when I was introduced to the concept via Seth Godins blog post on the subject when at work.

I have also recently come across it as a fantastic way to explain that overwhelming feeling that can come over some people when they start to get organised – on Karen Kingstons blog (update – this article no longer exists).

It really works as a way to think about things, and stop yourself getting too hot and bothered by a task when getting organised.

Basically it applies to staying focussed on the task at hand – which is especially critical when getting organised.

Let me explain….. (This is an extract from Seths Blog)

Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do.
“I want to wax the car today.”
“Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I’ll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.”
“But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.”
“But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor’s EZPass…”
“Bob won’t lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.”
“And we haven’t returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it.”
And the next thing you know, you’re at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.

What started out as the simple task of waxing the car, turned out to be a monumental, and stressful process – ending with a shaved Yak! – something totally unrelated to the task that you wanted to get done (waxing the car) – and something that didn’t actually directly help with the task either.

And as Karen explains – the problem a lot of people have with getting organised is that when they start on the project of “Getting organised” they can often end up feeling like Pandoras box has been opened, and even a simple task can increase in difficulty as you start to do it, and become so overwhelming its easier to stop altogether and forget about trying.

All it seems to do is add to your TO DO list – which really isn’t what you want!

How does Yak shaving relate to getting organised?

Think about the last time you started to declutter a room in your home.

Did it go something like this?

Started really well sorting out the living room, filling up a bin bag with the obvious rubbish – oh, wait – you found something that belongs in the kitchen, why not just pop over and get that back in its place – but wait again – the drawer that this goes in is full so you need to sort that out to make room – ahha – yes, the drawer has things from the utility in it which can also go back to their proper home – oh no – the utility cupboards are all full so you need to sort that out as well – ARGH! – now you are having to sort out 3 or 4 areas and you only set out to do 1 – and the house is chaotic everywhere.

In this example – the utility cupboards were the Yak.

They were the last thing that you needed to do in order to organise the living room.

But really – thats not true.

You didn’t set out to organise the utility today, or the kitchen drawer – so the answer is to keep focus on the job that you wanted to do, i.e. the living room, and get that done right – ignoring the rest for now.

Just sort the living room.

Leave the items for other spaces until the end – and deliver them to the appropriate room when you’ve finished.

If theres no room for them then leave them as close as possible to the right place – you will be organising that area another day (its still better than you have it now, as more items are in approx. the right place).

Focus, Focus, Focus

Focussing on the job that you meant to do will mean that you keep the job small enough not to be too overwhelmed by, and are more likely to get jobs finished, and therefore ultimately get more organised.

Its an absolute truth that when you set about organising an area of your home it gets messier before it gets better.

You have to pull everything out to see whats what, and to really get organised properly.

As a result, the snowball effect means that other areas are going to be affected.

The trick is to not let these worry you until the time comes to get them organised.

As you work around the house you will find that things will naturally get easier – in the example above, if you then start to organise the kitchen another day and find something from the living room – now the living room is organised there should be ample space to put it back – leaving the living room still organised, and the kitchen a little lighter.

However, when starting out, a lot of people think that they need to organise everything that is affected within the same project – and that can cause massive overwhelm.

Its this overwhelm that can be paralysing – and stop the organising in its tracks.

Its simple really – focus on the job you want to accomplish that day, and get that finished – doing the bare minimum elsewhere to enable you ultimate goal to be finished.

So – next time you find yourself in a state of overwhelm during a job, with things to do springing up everywhere and you doing something you really shouldn’t be worried about right there and then – check and see whether you are shaving your yak or just getting distracted – it will help you stay on track….


Note – no Yaks were hurt in the writing of this post ;o)

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