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When Yak Shaving is The Point

I’ve been working on some side projects lately. I feel good about that. But, I usually don’t finish them. I feel bad about that. I always feel bad about that. This tends to kills my motivation.

Also, I keep thinking that on one of these projects, I’ll pull together a “Les Orchard Standard Boilerplate” with all my favorite things configured for my next project. But, almost every time, I throw together a new mix of language, frameworks, and modules that seems about as valid as my choices on other previous projects. From a certain perspective, this seems wasteful.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. It’s not like I have nothing to show for this work. In fact, I think I’ve finally realized something obvious: This is my favorite way to stay current. That these side projects stop short of useful is beside the point. This is how I get experience applying recent frameworks and techniques, driven by scratching my own itches and following serial enthusiasms.

And though learning for its own sake is fun, I’ve found that my side projects end up beingĀ  leading indicators: The thing I played with a month ago comes in handy for next week’s work project. (And I do tend to finish my work projects, since I’ve got a team and a boss and a mission and a paycheck encouraging my focus.)

Of course, sometimes I worry that this is just an intersection of confirmation bias and Stockholm syndrome: I often decide what stack to use for my projects at work. So, I could just be picking the things I’ve found most recently shiny. You know, I have made regrettable technology choices over the years.

I’m aware of this trap, though. So, I guess there’s another reason why I shake up the stack on every side project: I’m trying to keep myself from getting stuck on any particular combination. I’m trying to keep an open mind for possible benefits in the alternatives.

That brings me to the phrase that got stuck in my head this week: Yak shaving is the point. It’s not a distraction or a waste of time. It’s the yak shaving that sharpens the saw.

Okay now I’m mixing metaphors or idioms or whatever, but it makes sense to me at least!