- (idiomatic) Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.
- I was doing a bit of yak shaving this morning, and it looks like it might have paid off.
- (idiomatic) A less useful activity done to consciously or unconsciously procrastinate about a larger but more useful task.
- I looked at a reference manual for my car just to answer one question, but I spent the whole afternoon with my nose buried in it, just yak shaving, and got no work done on the car itself.
Coined by Carlin Vieri in his time at the MIT AI Lab (1993-8) after viewing a 1991 episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show featuring "Yak Shaving Day," a Christmas-like Holiday where participants hang diapers instead of stockings, stuff rubber boots with cole slaw, and watch for the shaven yak to float by in his enchanted canoe.