We’ve recently adopted two time management phrases for website and online marketing projects at hesketh.com – yak shaving and bike shedding. If your agency or in-house marketing team wants to stop wasting time and be more productive, I bet you can use them, too. Read on!
Yak Shaving: slowly nibbling your way from A to B
Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.
Yaks are pretty cute, but you need to be sure the interim steps are worth it.
Or, as my friend Alison wrote about “Scribbles,” a yak in Montana (see right), “She likes to be petted, though sometimes she forgets to be careful with her horns.”
An Example of Yak Shaving
Spending too much time yak shaving can be bad for your projects’ long-term schedules — and a yak’s horns might be sharper than you expect.
For example, if an existing client calls to ask how much it would cost to do a particular new marketing project, the following steps might be yak-shaving rather than productive:
- Ask the sales guy if he’s sold this particular kind of thing before.
- Look for past proposals for similar marketing projects.
- Speak with the marketing strategy team about options for executing this.
- Ask the designer, front-end developer, and back-end developer for estimates.
- Look at the team’s schedules over the next few months.
- Draft a project plan in MS Project to cost out the marketing project.
- Ask a coworker to proofread the project plan.
- Make some revisions to the project plan.
- A week after the original call, send a complete project plan and quote to the client.
Sure, those steps will ultimately help answer the client’s “how much would it cost” question, but is that level of detail always the best approach? No! The client may just want a ballpark estimate to decide whether to proceed.
In that case, it’s better client service — and a better use of everyone’s time — to just say in the initial call, “In my experience, this sort of marketing project typically runs at least $20,000. Would you like us to evaluate this further to create a more precise estimate for your specific needs?”
Then, if they give the green light after getting the ballpark, you can proceed with those earlier steps.
Seth Godin on Yak Shaving
Marketing guru Seth Godin describes yak-shaving as small activities that don’t help the long-term outcome. I disagree that yak-shaving never helps you get from A to B, but he makes an important point about how we need to decide whether the yak shaving’s worth it:
The minute you start walking down a path toward a yak shaving party, it’s worth making a compromise. Doing it well now is much better than doing it perfectly later.
My advice before you start yak shaving? Think about whether it’s the best approach, and if the outcome is worth the time it takes to get there. And monitor yourself and your team for yak-shaving, so you can stop people before they find themselves buried in yak fur.
Bike Shedding: wasting time on activities that don’t matter
In contrast to yak shaving — which may have a long-term benefit — bike-shedding is a complete waste of time. As Wiktionary notes, bike shedding is:
Futile investment of time and energy in marginal technical issues.
Or, more bluntly, bike shedding is:
Comedian Tina Fey has some great advice about getting past procrastination, but it’s up to us to catch it and stop ourselves.
Don’t get bogged down on trivial issues in your marketing projects
Bike shedding is related to Parkinson’s law of triviality, which says:
“…organizations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.”
Wikipedia elaborates with an anecdote from 1957:
In the 3rd chapter - High Finance or The Point of Vanishing Interest - Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting. In it three items are on the agenda. The first is the signing of a $10 million (1957 dollars) contract to build “an atomic reactor” [sic], the second a proposal to build a $2,350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff and the third proposes $57 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee.
The $10 million number is too big and too technical, and it passes in 2.5 minutes.
The bicycle shed is a subject understood by the board, and the dollar amount within their life experience, so Mr. Softleigh says that an aluminium roof is too expensive and they should use asbestos. Mr. Holdfast wants galvanized iron. Mr. Daring questions the need for the shed at all. Mr. Holdfast disagrees. Parkinson then writes “The debate is fairly launched. A sum of $2,350 is well within everybody’s comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some $300. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment.”
Parkinson then described the third agenda item, writing “There may be members of the committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized iron, but every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting.“
How learning to recognize Bike Shedding early can make you more productive on marketing projects
At hesketh.com, we’re building websites and online strategies, not nuclear reactors, but this concept works in interactive marketing, too.
We’ve adapted and simplified this a bit: If you’re building a nuclear reactor, it doesn’t matter what color the bike shed is. Focus on building the nuclear reactor first.
When a hesketh.com team meeting or discussion devolves into spending too much time on something unimportant, anyone can — and does — call out “bike shedding” and we can respond accordingly by making an immediate decision or tabling the topic and moving on.
Keep things moving when you realize a client is Bike Shedding
It helps speaking with clients, too, if a client is focusing on something trivial — especially if that discussion or decision is preventing us from moving the project forward. For instance, things like font spacing deserve attention at some point, but not when we’re waiting for approval on a site’s Information Architecture (IA) first.
It helps to step back, acknowledge the topic is important, and remind everyone of the big picture — nuclear reactor over the bike shed paint scheme, and IA signoff over three hours on font spacing. And sometimes, this process surfaces that certain things are more important to the client than we originally understood, which is always a good thing.
Yak Shaving and Bike Shedding: using these new terms at work
There’s yak shaving and bike shedding everywhere — for instance, if you’re searching for a new job, it’s easier to spend time tweaking your resume or selecting a business card paper stock than using networking to connect with people, but networking is going to have a better ROI. And I’m sure you can think of other examples, too.
We’ve all done it, even if we didn’t have a name for it — and now you have options for doing something about it!
Question: When was the last time you saw yak-shaving or bike-shedding at work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.