Bikeshedding, yak shaving and no brown M&Ms
Bikeshedding is when you waste way too much time on trifling matters.
The act of wasting time on trivial details while important matters are inadequately attended is sometimes known as bikeshedding. That term originates from Parkinson's observation of a committee organized to approve plans for a nuclear power plant. As Parkinson noted, the committee devoted a disproportionate amount of time to relatively unimportant details -- such as the materials for a bicycle storage shed -- which limited the time available to focus on the design of the nuclear plant.
Take a look around. You will see this happen everywhere, including your own life. For example, I have seen many people spend way too much time reading reviews and doing research to buy stuff that doesn’t even cost that much. I have certainly done this before.
The other aspect to this effect is that, sometimes all the important decisions get taken quickly, but the small ones stretch and stretch. One reason could be that for the important (and thus complex) ones, people may just rely on authorities to tell them what to do, but for the smaller stuff, suddenly everyone gets transformed into an authority with crisp opinions.
Yak shaving refers to a task, that leads you to perform another related task and so on, and so on — all distracting you from your original goal. This is sometimes called “going down the rabbit hole.”
Source: american express (yeah, I didn’t know they maintained a blog like that one).
They give an example:
You want to bake an apple pie, so you head to the kitchen.
In the hallway, you notice some paint chipping on the wall.
So you walk to the hardware store for some paint.
On the way, you pass a bakery and stop in for a cupcake.
While eating the cupcake, you feel a pain in your mouth. It’s that cavity that you’ve been putting off.
You pick up your phone to call the dentist to make an appointment, but you see a notification from your friend Cher, who’s having a party.
You don’t want to show up empty-handed, so you stop for a bottle of wine. …
I don’t know about you, but I do this far more often than I would like. I have noticed that I do this often when organizing my home. For example, I may want to organize just one shelf, but when I take an item which doesn’t belong there to a place where I want it to be, I will notice that the destination is a mess, start organizing that instead, and so on. Before I realize it, I will have many threads of work dangling in there and I would have run out of time. So I will put back stuff haphazardly, only to have made it worse than before.
This also happens with email and my phone quite a lot. I might be writing a document, and I might navigate to my Inbox to search for a reference, only to be distracted by some new email.
If you are interested in knowing why it is called yak shaving, the article has the reason listed.
The above two are related to time management and productivity. Speaking of productivity, don’t over do it and check out the following article.
Now something slightly different.
On No Brown M&Ms
Rock band Van Halen had one of the most oddly specific requests of all: a bowl of M&M candies, with all the brown ones removed. For years, it was seen as complete folly — the band was making a ridiculous demand of concert organizers simply because they could get away with it.
But the seemingly ludicrous request was actually a shrewd business move.
The band's concert rider indeed had a clause saying there could be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, or the promoter would forfeit the entire show at full price.
The other version of this story that I have heard is that, if the band spots a bowl with brown M&Ms in the backstage area (several weeks before the concert), they will know that the promoter hasn’t read the contract carefully. This could be a signal to them that the promoter isn’t detail-oriented which opens up possibilities for things to go wrong during the concert.