Let me know if this sounds familiar to you. You start on an adventure, possibly with the help of a computer, but something happens and you get distracted.
Or, more likely, you don’t get distracted but the shape of the problem you’re trying to solve changes, or the adventure you were expecting to travel upon went in another direction entirely.
As I’ve written before
, this is something called yak shaving
, and I find myself doing it often. It essentially is shorthand for endlessly getting caught up in unrelated tasks when trying to complete a main goal. It was a term inspired by an episode of Ren & Stimpy
While often brought up in the context of programming, there are other settings where this state of affairs emerges. For example, the hero in an ’80s action movie who keeps getting pulled into unrelated side quests that don’t seem to have any direct tie to the plot but nonetheless take up most of the runtime. Or the hacking and slashing that makes up much of your average ’90s RPG.
And the ease of this happening to any one person is actually not that surprising. Think about if someone is building a shed, and they suddenly say, oh shoot, I forgot my screwdriver
, and it turns out the screwdriver is buried in a junk drawer—but, oh shoot, it’s the wrong screw head! So now I have to go to Home Depot to invest in screwdrivers. But since I’m there, I might as well look at lawn mowers. And how about hitting up Cold Stone on the way back? Wait, why did we go out again? Crap, the shed!