Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.
Mental dialogues, yak-shaving & the triumph of the 'mini-review'
Merlin Mann | Sep 29 2004
From time to time in the middle of an interruption-driven week, I’ll find myself in the weeds and struggling to think where I should park an item. My brain speaks informally with itself:
I’ve finally learned to diagnose these odd dialogues as a symptom of a simple problem: I’m mired in seemingly important details, I’ve fallen out of touch with my “stuff," and, damn it, I need to do a quick mini-review.
My mini-review falls somewhere between the glances I give my lists throughout the day and the comprehensive weekly review I do each weekend. It’s basically a 10-minute metamoment where I stop working and just try to re-focus on my goals, and the tactical adjustments needed to get them moved forward today.
At the end of my mini-review, I usually feel a lot better about what I really need to do, and the reason is transparent: in order for my brain to focus on creative, thoughtful work, it needs to stop burning cycles on trudging through recursive, open loops and distracting mental busy work. The only way to shut those processes down is to assure my addled but very responsible mind that someone competent is on top of things and helping to pilot the great, lumbering yacht of my life toward the right port.
My pal, Danny, taught me a great phrase: yak-shaving. It refers to the seemingly endless (and growing) skein of dependencies that lies between you and the thing you started out ostensibly wanting to accomplish. I think that lavishing yourself with 10 or 15 minutes of mini-review doesn’t just get your head in order. It also causes you to consider seriously for a moment whether a given, seemingly important yak is really worth shaving at all.
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