Disciplined Yak Shaving

- - posted in learning, tips, yak-shaving

Being productive is more popular than ever. Everyone wants to get more and more done in less and less time. And no wonder. Getting things done feels really good.

Yet, “getting things done” is not always the best way to spend our time. yak shaving, done in the right way, can also be a good way to spend time.

Here are some reasons why I find disciplined yak shaving to be a good thing and some things I’ve learned along the way about how to do it well.

Edifying Yak Shaving

When I was learning how to program, I often felt overwhelmed by the amount of information that was available about programming and computer science. Instead of picking one area to stick to and focus on (e.g. rails development), I started down a path of yak shaving.

I learned a little about Rails, which led me to learn more about Ruby, which then led me to look into C (on which Ruby is built). Before I knew it, I was looking a bit into programming language interpreters.

Of course, one doesn’t need to know anything about the Ruby interpreter to be an expert Rails developer. And many would even argue that learning such things only serves as a distraction. However, when I then went back to Rails I found things easier to understand. I was not only able to achieve this because my time in Ruby land had taught me what a “@” really means, but also because the edges around what I was learning became clearer.

Through my deliberate yak shaving distraction, the distracting “great unknown” at the boundaries of what I learned faded away.

While the uneasy feeling that comes with “just not knowing” would come back, the peace that deliberate yak shaving had afforded me allowed me to learn more effectively.

Self Improvement Yak Shaving

We tend to stick to what we know. Now that I’m beyond being a beginner, I’ve noticed that if I wanted to, I could get by just fine on what I already know. However, anyone who enjoys what they do (as I do programming) knows that this just won’t cut it.

Reading books and listening to podcasts are some ways to further yourself, but often times the best way to learn new things is to go on a good ol’ fashion yak shave. Put yourself in the middle of an area where you “shouldn’t be” and force yourself to learn your way out.

Careful Yak Shaving

Yak shaving can get dangerous. Obviously, it’s important to know when not to start yak shaving. Don’t, for example, go on a great yak shave while the servers you’re in charge of at work are on fire.

However, it’s equally, if not more, important to know when to stop yak shaving. In order to reap the benefits of an edifying yak shaving you need to return to the original task at hand. Stay too far away and you may never get back.

Also, knowing the limits of where you think the yak shaving should take you is very important. You don’t want yak shaving to become an extremely tedious or frustrating activity. If you feel overly frustrated, you’ve gone too far, and you’ll kill the motivating experience that yak shaving can be.

So I suggest giving a yak shave a go. See how long you stick to each part of the yak shave. Do you spend too much time on one thing so that you’ve forgotten how and why you got there? Do you spend too little time and fail to appreciate what you can learn at each step?

Happy Yak Shaving!

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