Your AutoPilot Can Kill You

Linda Shirey profile picThis week we’re happy to provide a guest blog courtesy of Linda Shirey.

Linda is a freelance writer and researcher, having previously spent 10 years in office administration, from attorneys to accountants to international marketers.

She enjoys helping small businesses run more efficiently.




Your AutoPilot Can Kill You (And How to Fight Back)

Being on “auto-pilot” means that you’re doing things out of habit without thinking. This can be great, if your habits are built to help you. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that those same habits can cause you to lose time and money if they were created randomly, not strategically. I once spent thirty minutes simply retracing roads on a motorway, because my autopilot took me to exits and turn-off points automatically.  This happened even after I said aloud, “Today, I’m going on a different road than I normally take”.

Here are a few ways your various “Auto Pilots” can send you astray, and how to fight back:

The Time AutoPilotautopilot and time management

It’s great to have little pop-up reminders on your calendar for important meetings or tasks. Unfortunately, sometimes they no longer apply. The brain often acts like an over-excited Outlook calendar (“you need to check your email! Something might have happened!”), keeping you from actually focusing on really important tasks.

Fighting the Time AutoPilot:  Make a rule about checking email or the phone, so when the reminder pops up in your mind, you can tell it firmly to go away. “I only check email at 10 am and 2 pm on Fridays”.

The Vacation AutoPilot

No doubt, you’ve seen this habit in your employees. Once you’ve decided to go on vacation, there’s more chat and laughter but really no work going on – people are already on vacation in their minds.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true for business owners. A New York Times article on “Vacation Sabotage” associated switching from ‘work mode’ to ‘vacation mode’ to tearing down the Autobahn at 100 miles per hour and then slamming on the breaks and crashing into a guardrail. So, you may find yourself ‘just taking five minutes’ to phone into the office, or do a quick check on emails, while your family is impatiently tapping their toes and waiting for you to be ready to go to the beach. They know that your mind has never really left the office.

Between irritation at the “need” to call the office, guilt that your family has to wait, and the desire for family to understand that sacrifices must be made – you’re not going to concentrate on what your employees are saying anyway. The employees are going to be irritated that you seem to not trust them (even if that’s justified). Who wins? Nobody.

Fighting the Vacation AutoPilot:  Set up specific days and times to call or email, so that once you find out there are no real emergencies, you can slip easily back into Vacation Mode. Another solution is to tell clients and staff at least 2 to 3 weeks in advance that you’ll be offline. If you stick to that, both employees and clients may respect your boundaries better in other areas, too.  (Delegating, if you can, is the best solution of all. Then you really get a break.)

The Client AutoPilot

It’s natural, in the start-up phase, to allow clients a lot of leeway in the beginning, when everyone’s finding their best pace and price points. Once you’ve become established, you may find it irritating that one client presumes that you’ll always give them a large discount (for friendship’s sake), or another takes your leniency on accepting phone calls just that bit too far. In those cases, if Auto-pilot practices go on too long, you’ll be wasting a lot of time mentally grinding your teeth (but remaining outwardly polite) about habits that work for everyone but you.

Fighting the Client AutoPilot: It’s not always necessary to come up with a brand-new policy in an impersonal Memo, explaining that times have changed. Often, just a five-minute chat in which you explain how your business has grown, and how this or that practice really won’t work anymore, can clear the air. Change is inevitable. If the employee or client doesn’t understand – or gets irritated – that’s usually a sign of the Vampire (draining the system dry for their own benefit). Do you really want your new clients simply sapping your strength?

A Final Note

Finally, it’s key to understand that your brain won’t remind you about a new task or goal until you’ve done it a few times. Part of the weird feeling of implementing new processes is just due to the brain not knowing what ‘template’ to use – because the process is new. Once you’ve done it a few times, the brain relaxes, and then starts reminding you if you don’t put the plan into action. (“You haven’t tweeted in 12 days. Get a move on.”)

Enjoy being your own pilot, and only using those AutoPilots who actually take you in the right direction!