I've heard this phrase but can't remember it--something like "[verb]ing the [noun]". Something to describe a working on a task that began with a simple task but turned into a long string of working on requisite tasks. This is not a rabbit hole, where the initial task appears simple but you're mired in discovering its complexity. Rather it's a series of simple requisite tasks that you're resolving to be able to ultimately resolve the initial task.

  • "Rabbit hole" is the currently-top answer under the duplicate, not what I was looking for, but another answer under it was: "yak shaving". Here's another explanation (hanselman.com/blog/…), probably where I first saw it.
    – NaN
    Jan 11, 2019 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


Why not stick with a word you have already used in your question? The word is chain. Simply add -ing to the word, and the resulting word describes quite nicely the phenomenon you describe. Here is what the Free Dictionary says about chaining:

Chaining is a type of intervention that aims to create associations between behaviors in a behavior chain. A behavior chain is a sequence of behaviors that happen in a particular order where the outcome of the previous step in the chain serves as a signal to begin the next step in the chain. In terms of behavior analysis, a behavior chain is begun with a discriminative stimulus (SD) which sets the occasion for a behavior, the outcome of that behavior serves as a reinforcer for completing the previous step and as another SD to complete the next step. This sequence repeats itself until the last step in the chain is completed and a terminal reinforcer (the outcome of a behavior chain, i.e. with brushing one's teeth the terminal reinforcer is having clean teeth) is achieved.

For example, the chain in brushing one's teeth starts with seeing the toothbrush, this sets the occasion to get toothpaste, which then leads to putting it on one's brush, brushing the sides and front of mouth, spitting out the toothpaste, rinsing one's mouth, and finally putting away one's toothbrush. To outline behavior chains, as done in the example, a task analysis is used.

Chaining is used to teach complex behaviors made of behavior chains that the current learner does not have in their repertoire. Various steps of the chain can be in the learner’s repertoire, but the steps the learner doesn’t know how to do have to be in the category of can’t do instead of won’t do (issue with knowing the skill not an issue of compliance). There are three different types of chaining which can be used and they are forward chaining, backward chaining, and total task chaining (not to be confused with a task analysis).

While the application of the process of chaining to behavior may be its primary function, the application of the concept to "a long string of working on requisite tasks" is quite clear, in my opinion.

  • Maybe it's "backward chaining", but it's not simply chaining: that would be accomplishing the intended task first and triggering a series of follow-on tasks. What I'm looking to describe is when the intended task is accomplished last.
    – NaN
    Mar 28 at 15:43

I think it was 'snowballing the problems'.

According to Oxford Living Dictionary:

To snowball means "to increase rapidly in size, intensity, or importance".

‘the campaign was snowballing’

‘But its global economic importance has been snowballing since China's Communist rulers decreed an experiment in capitalist economics there in 1980.’

‘It grew on them, and snowballed into a major countrywide hit.’

‘Right now, it seems more important to me to just keep doing and building, and then worry about money later on, once the whole thing snowballs a bit more…’

‘The whole incident deteriorated rapidly as the conflicting claims snowballed into a near-crisis.’

‘The government has this fear that these organizations will grow gradually until they snowball to the point where they affect the power of the government or even political stability itself.’

‘The whole thing snowballed, and soon journalists stopped bothering to contact Robert before quoting him.’

‘What begins as a private family dilemma snowballs into a very public display of social embarrassment.’

‘I nodded absently, still humming the song as I thought about the dilemma that was rather rapidly snowballing.’

‘Things will get better and bands will become motivated and eventually it will snowball into something of importance.’

‘Debts snowballed as card holders paid off one card with another.’

‘Identifying problem areas well in time, allows the company to set right the situation before it snowballs into customer dissatisfaction.’

‘The effect snowballs, allowing smaller predators like foxes, hawks, owls, and pine martens to flourish.’

‘From there things snowballed until a violent civil war burst into the colonies.’

‘The ambitious vision then was that this coalition would snowball into one single consolidated unit which would grow into greater strength.’

‘As soon as you appear on a few spam lists, it just snowballs.’

‘One thing is for certain, however, the lively debate surrounding the film - be it political or environmental - should serve to guarantee that profits snowball at the box office.’

‘The problem is quickly snowballing out of control.’

‘Bad luck - the change of just a few atoms - snowballs into metabolic disaster.’

‘This creates more free electrons and the process snowballs.’

‘When we started to promote the course, recruitment snowballed by word of mouth.'

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