Zach'3 PEN #8: Yak Shaving and Power Puttering

2020 Week 39

In my Angry Politics Man Fervor last week, I forgot to mention it was Louisa’s third birthday. Proper savoring is the first casualty of anger:

There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel of this move. Wendell’s been a nightmare not sleeping the last few days and the pain in my heel (plantar fasciitis) is a real impediment, but neither of these are an adequate excuse for why this move has been so slow.

One of the concepts most emblematic of what’s wrong with me is Yak Shaving. For those unfamiliar, I believe the term was coined by programmers somewhere and popularized by Merlin Mann. Here’s how I’ve seen it described by Seth Godin:

"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.

Every single item on our moving list reveals six dependencies, and each of those spawn twelve more. And since there’s an overwhelming amount to begin with and little clarity on the hundreds of decisions to make, this whole thing is a recipe for paralysis.

But there’s another side to Yak Shaving… First of all, almost every useful skill I have I cultivated in the process of Yak Shaving. Every discovery I’ve made. Every useful digression. There is a way to lean in to Yak Shaving, and then it becomes another thing entirely: Power Puttering (also a term I learned from Merlin, and I think he coined this one).

Power Puttering is about optimizing Yak Shaving and just going with the flow allowing the task at hand to diverge seven different ways and just keep moving, never stop moving. Podcasts and books on tape are great for this, and it’s actually one of the most relaxing things to do.

Power Puttering is Glenda the Good Sister Witch of Yak Shaving.

But there’s one more problem for me: To properly Power Putter, I can’t have any interruptions, and certainly no interruptions for judgment or questioning of whichever putterpond I am deep into. I need to be super careful, because the times I am most snappy with Allison (and immediately regret it, of course) is when I get knocked out of a deep, earthy Power Putter to ask why I’m doing the thing I’m doing…

When I explained the concept of Yak Shaving to my coach, Michael Ashcroft(who is awesome), he sent this Bryan Cranston scene from Malcolm in the Middle and it’s a perfect illustration of my life moving into our home right now (and unfortunately, I must admit, of my unacceptable snappiness when confronted):

I’ve really gotta work on the snappiness. That's the actual weakness here.

Happy Puttering to All,


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