I just got my copy of MAKE:. I read it in one sitting cover to cover. What an excellent mook. There were a lot of great articles. In the section Life Hacks: Overclocking your Productivity, there was fun little article called Yak Shaving by Danny O'Brien and Merlin Mann. "Yak shaving is the technical term for when you find yourself eight levels deep - and possibly in an recursive loop - in a stack of jobs." The example they give is:
You start out deciding to tidy your room and you realize that in order to do that you'll need some more trash bags, so you need to go to the shops, which will involve you getting out the car, but the car needs gas, so you'll need to go to the gas station first, which means you should probably find your gas discount card, which involves finding your keys, which are in the room somewhere...They talk about many hackers spending a lot of their time "lost in life's subroutines" and that "some of us like solving puzzles a bit more than we like solved puzzles." They suggest that super-efficient hackers "learn when to say no to the temptation of endless fiddling." Veeeery interesting. So this is what I've been doing all my life. Shaving Yaks.
I can fit most of my life into this metaphor. I remember the moment when I was working in television, music promotion and motion pictures and decided that IP and the Internet would solve many problems that I had with the control that big companies had on the flow of information. I helped set up the first ISP in Japan, helped set up Infoseek Japan, started one of the first web companies in Japan... but it still didn't solve the "problem." I realized that there were some basic problems in society and the market was broken. I noticed that democracy was broken and tried to work on fixing that in Japan. Then I realized that it was broken all over the place and decided to work on that too.
Blogging was another important way of solving the freedom of expression and flow of information I was after and there was Six Apart. Then I realized that that we needed a better way to organize blogs and there was Technorati. But copyright was broken and there was Creative Commons. And Internet governance... and ICANN. Oh no! Suddenly I have no time and am totally immersed in the "subroutines" of my life. Acutally, my whole life is just one big yak shaving exercise. Luckily, these subroutines ARE my life and are very rewarding.
I do agree with the article that you have to learn when to say no to the temptation of "endless fiddling" but it is through this fiddling that I sometimes find myself in a new place, sometimes slightly before the rest of the pack. If it weren't for this fiddling, I'd be spending my life solving boring problems for boring bosses.