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As a software developer I'm on the lookout for new tools and ways of automating my work. However many times while investigating a new tool (and maybe other people) have a tendency to go down a rabbit hole and spend a lot of time on investigation and setting up tools, for a task that would have taken me a tenth of the time to accomplish had I done it manually.

Is there a special word that would best describe this activity? Or a word for describing the kind of frustration you feel when you give up after deciding you've wasted a lot of time and not got any real work done.

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  • Welcome to English Language & Usage, a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions. Single word requests in particular are required to have an example sentence where the word would be used. Primarily to make clear what kind of word you are looking for.
    – Helmar
    Sep 2, 2016 at 9:08
  • 1
    There may not be a word, but there is definitely a comic. Sep 2, 2016 at 11:47
  • It's called "surfing the Internet", or "browsing Stack Exchange sites".
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:51
  • Thank you for your question. We are looking for thoughtful, intriguing questions posed as you would ask them of an expert, including evidence that you have put effort and research into the question. Please edit to share the results of your research. Questions which lack results of research may be closed. (more) A dictionary or thesaurus may be quite helpful. Your question should include the results of your search. It should also explain why the results were not adequate to answer your question.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 2, 2016 at 15:10

11 Answers 11

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Analysis paralysis is closely related.

From Wikipedia:

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.

Also called perfectionist paralysis, in some situations.

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Yak Shaving - The Jargon File, and at Wiktionary, which mentions the Ren and Stimpy show the term comes from.

Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on.

While the definition given there specifically talks about "actually necessary" and "solves the real problem", I've increasingly heard it in the context of seemingly necessary (but actually unnecessary) activities, and in the context of a problem you give up on.

It's a fairly common term among software developers. For example, at the daily standup:

I started looking at the {account frobnication} problem, but spent the whole day shaving yaks instead.

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Boondoggle - Oxford English Dictionary

NOUN

An unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent project

"he characterized the defense program as an unworkable boondoggle"

VERB

Spend money or time on unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects:

"the only guarantees are higher taxes and bureaucratic boondoggling"

Your search for increased productivity was mere boondoggling :-)

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Productivity Porn - Macmillan online

The term productivity porn is a relatively recent term increasingly being used to mean an unhealthy obsession or spending an inordinate amount of time researching productivity techniques that would help you become more efficient in dealing with a task, often ironically at the cost of not dealing with that issue in a timely manner in the first place.

While due to its recency it may not be found readily in traditional dictionaries at his point in time, a google search of the term will reveal its widespread and consistent use. (The term appears to have been coined around 2000 and reached popularity after 2005).


Personal note: that use of the word "porn" here is completely non-sexual and the phrase is not considered offensive (in the same way the word "sexy" is increasingly used inoffensively (in the UK at least) to mean appealing or well-presented, e.g. "a sexy project" or "a sexy presentation" or "a sexy new gadget". However, clearly, it would be wise to avoid using this term in more formal contexts as it might offend people who are new to it. Having said that, I have seen it used in the context of formal presentations at university.

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  • 1
    Welcome to English Language & Usage, a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.This site strives to provide objective answers. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good answers. As it stands your answer is purely subjective.
    – Helmar
    Sep 2, 2016 at 10:48
  • Thanks for the helpful comment @Helmar. I've edited the answer to make it objective and closer to the format of other answers here. :) Sep 2, 2016 at 12:08
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Futile - Collins Dictionary

Having no effective result; unsuccessful

If you say that something was futile, you mean there was no point in doing it.

All for nothing.

Informally, you can also say, Something is all for nothing.

Describes work that you did, which didn't have an effect.

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  • I wonder if the idiom, "red herring", as in, "It turned out be a red herring after all", might cover the OP. Wikipedia: A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. Sep 2, 2016 at 7:07
  • Red herring which means something unimportant that is used to stop people from noticing or thinking about something important? Sep 2, 2016 at 7:10
  • Great minds think alike. Sep 2, 2016 at 7:12
  • @PeterPoint I don't know if it can be used here. Sep 2, 2016 at 12:32
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OverkillMacmillan

noun More of something than is needed or wanted
"I really did think that four hours of speeches amounted to overkill"

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Overengineering - Wikipedia

Overengineering is the designing of a product to be more robust or complicated than is necessary for its application

Implementing too complex systems for simple problems can waste a lot of time.

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Such tool-making (or tool-finding, but in some circles/contexts peopel will understand what's going on from the "tool-making" bit alone) is a common form of procrastination.

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Parkinson's Law -

Originally, Parkinson's law is the adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law

Some corollaries -

If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.[5]
Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.[6]
Data expands to fill the space available for storage.

see the same wiki article for sources.

The law's partial derivative with respect to time -

The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.

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I do the exact same thing. Sometimes it can be quite useful and I find that I learn a lot because of it. It's not a perfect fit but I attribute this phenomenon to a concept commonly known as micromanagement and sometimes just plain old procrastination.

MicromanageOxford Dictionary Of English and New Oxford American Dictionary

micromanage |ˈmʌɪkrəʊmanɪdʒ|
verbwith obj.

Control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity):

"He did not want to give the impression that he was micromanaging the war".

micromanagement |ˈmʌɪkrəʊmanɪdʒm(ə)nt|
noun

micromanager |ˈmʌɪkrəʊmanɪdʒə|
noun

Origin:
from Greek:
mikros 'small',
from Latin:
manus 'hand'.

ProcrastinateOxford Dictionary Of English and New Oxford American Dictionary

procrastinate |prə(ʊ)ˈkrastɪneɪt|
verbno obj.

Delay or postpone action; put off doing something:

"The temptation will be to procrastinate until the power struggle plays itself out"

procrastinator |prə(ʊ)ˈkrastɪneɪtə|
noun

procrastinative |prə(ʊ)ˈkrastɪnətɪv|
adjective

procrastinatory |prə(ʊ)ˈkrastɪnət(ə)ri|
adjective

"Most importantly, procrastinatory behaviour is based on perceived workloads and deadlines, and it can not be assumed that perceptions are always perfect"

Origin: Late 16th century:
from Latin:
procrastinat- 'deferred till the morning',
from the verb:
procrastinare,
from:
pro- 'forward'
+crastinus 'belonging to tomorrow'
(from: cras 'tomorrow').

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This is not one word, but I thought you would find it appropos: opening a nut with a sledge hammer. It suggests at least two answers already provided: overkill and overengineerimg.

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