Shaving Yaks

A man wants to buy bananas, but his car has a flat.

He needs his air pump but remembers he lent it to his neighbor.

He can’t ask his neighbor for it because he hasn’t returned his neighbor’s jacket.

He can’t return the jacket because he ripped it last week.

He can’t fix the jacket because his dog peed on the yak fur that spilled from the rip.

He needs authentic fur, so he breaks into the local zoo to shave a yak.

He gets arrested for trespassing and cries, “I just wanted a banana!”

“Yak-shaving” means getting sidetracked with an endless slew of tasks that are unrelated to the primary mission. There are always yaks to shave—especially in large, matrixed organizations—and they can abound in any project, even buying bananas. Since yak-shaving is time and labor-intensive and often begets more yak-shaving, it’s best to avoid it. Two tips:

  1. Beware layered prerequisites. Can you cut a corner?
  2. Stay near the primary task. Can you explain the secondary task’s relevance in one sentence?