How many yaks have you shaved lately without even knowing it?

Cartoon yak

You know what it’s like. You start the day with good intentions but get side-tracked and don’t end up doing any of the things you planned to do.

Sometimes this happens because you are too easily distractible, in which case you need to learn to make a To Do List, prioritize everything on it in order of decreasing importance, and make sure you at least get the essential tasks done. This will give you a satisfying sense of achievement at the end of the day.

Sometimes it happens because there are unexpected calls on your attention. This is bound to occur occasionally, but if it happens too often you may need to learn to say no from time to time so that you can prioritize your own needs. There are genuine exceptions, of course, but people who always put others first are usually avoiding something in their own life that they don’t want to deal with.

What this article is about is another type of side-tracking that most people don’t recognize because they don’t have a name for it. And yet I’m sure after I explain it, you’ll realize it happens to you a lot.

It’s called yak shaving, and is defined as any series of unrelated tasks that have to be completed before you can do the job you first set out to do.

How yak shaving happens

The key word in this definition is “unrelated”. Everyone understands that when they set out to do a task, there may be a series of related things that need to be done. For example, if you want to renew your passport, you need to have your photo taken, fill in the forms, and post the documents to the relevant office or perhaps make a trip to the office in person. Step 1 is followed by Step 2, which is then followed by Step 3. It’s a linear progression, with each step logically following on from the last.

Yak shaving is not like this at all. How this scenario might look when yak shaving is involved is that you need to get a new passport, but in order to do that you first need to get a new photo taken, but in order to do that you need to get a haircut, and in order to do that you first need to get your car repaired so that you can drive to town to get it done. And so instead of applying for your passport, you spend the entire day getting your car fixed and feeling frustrated because you never got started on the job you first set out to do. That’s yak shaving!

Made famous by author and blogger, Seth Godin, the example he gives on his blog is about the process of wanting to wax his car, but to do this he first has to buy a new hose, but to do that he first needs to borrow his neighbour’s E-Zpass to cross a toll bridge to get to Home Depot, and to do that he first needs to restuff the mooshi pillow his son borrowed from the neighbour. Hence ending up at the zoo shaving a yak!

Yak shaving strategies

Hopefully your own examples are not as obscure as this, but they certainly can be. The reason why it’s important to stop, catch yourself in the act, and realize you are yak shaving is because this immediately takes you out of feeling like a victim of circumstances and helps to reduce the feelings of frustration that can arise.

Better still, now that you are wise to it, you can spot that it is about to happen, have a little chuckle to yourself about it, and either decide to continue with good-natured enthusiasm or leave that particular yak unshaven for now and find another way to accomplish your goal (in my example, perhaps get a friend to give you a lift, or catch a bus or taxi instead).

A good sense of humour is definitely an asset when it comes to yak shaving, which is why I have chosen a cute cartoon yak for the picture that accompanies this blog. Next time this happens to you, bring this image to mind, smile, and make a conscious decision to shave it or not. Be aware too, that entire herds of yaks can emerge when there’s clutter clearing to be done, so be particularly alert for them at those times.

Related articles
Mastering the art of yak shaving

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2017
First published at on March 9, 2017

About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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4 Responses to How many yaks have you shaved lately without even knowing it?

  1. Belinda says:

    How bizarre, well synchronicity, I must be a yak expert, a typical Pisces too, easy to just change plans and go with the flow, but I still haven’t completed the task I visualized I wanted to do, a bit like this message really, round and round the houses, so to speak. Today and for the last 6 weeks I have a “corner of my room” ready to tackle its got worse the last 6 months so other things join the pile. ( what corner/area you may well ask?) Not sure, but instead of starting today, I spring cleaned my window, had a sit-down, cleaned door & porch, went to buy cat food, then another job I needed to do, search for a newer car!!! So my pile didn’t get sorted. My yak shaving was a perfect example.

    • Hi Belinda

      Yak shaving is very specific. It involves having to do a number of tasks you never planned to do that prevent you from being able to do the one you first set out to do until they are all completed. You can find an example of this here: Mastering the art of yak shaving.

      What you have described is called Structured Procrastination, which happens when you get a lot of other things done in order to avoid doing the task you first set out to do!

  2. Jo says:

    There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Lisa, dear Lisa. There’s a hole in my bucket….. as sung by Harry Bellafonte

  3. John says:

    I have yacked on too many occasions. Yacking is a great pastime here in Australia. Yackers are in great supply and enjoy yacking. Congratulations on a great post.

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