Design and Default: Is Your Auto-Pilot Working for You?


Being more intentional is a thing nowadays.  Modern life has reached a speed at which it is just a whirlwind of activity, most of which we do not give much thought to as we flit from one to-do list item to another.  When we live like this, we let our auto-pilot take over, and everything we do becomes a default reaction.  We become our routines.

But do we ever take the time to step back and ask ourselves if our routines – those things that we do by default or habit day after day – are actually working for us?  

Every Sunday, for example, I spend cooking and getting ready for the next day, always with a faint inkling that I am forgetting something that I need to do. I only cook on the weekends, while my beloved spouse has dinner duty Monday-Friday.  For some reason, I spend several hours cooking on Sunday. I can’t tell you why it takes me hours to make dinner.  Dinner shouldn’t take hours.  Last Sunday I made a roast, mashed potatoes and rice and green beans and potato salad and Brussel sprouts, and I was exhausted when it was all over.  Well, now that I write that, of course I was exhausted.  That is a LOT of food for one dinner.  But I didn’t set out to make all of that.  I started with the simple idea that I was going to make a pot roast.  A pot roast is a fairly simple thing to make.  You brown up some onions, celery and carrots, add some broth and wine, throw the meat in and let it cook on its own for 3-4 hours. But then, something had to go with the meat, so I thought how much my daughter likes mashed potatoes, so that got added to the menu (peeling, boiling, mashing).  Only my son doesn’t like mashed potatoes, so I should make something else for him.  That’s how rice got added to the menu (more boiling and sauteing). Then there had to be a vegetable, of which my choices were broccoli, green beans or Brussel sprouts.  The kids love the green beans and they take longer to make, so let’s make the green beans, since it is Sunday and I have oodles of time.  While I am at it, I ‘ll just go ahead and roast up those Brussel sprouts, then I’ll have them for the week (more chopping).  Oh, but wait – what will my daughter take in her lunch, because since the time I inundated her with ham and cheese sandwiches in middle school, she refuses to take a sandwich in her lunch – ever.  So, it has to be something that can be eaten cold because the microwave is somehow an issue.  That led to potato salad being added to the Sunday menu (yet more peeling, chopping and boiling)

That is how I ended up spending this particular Sunday making pot roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, Brussel sprouts, rice and potato salad.  And I thought about making a cake to use up that sour cream before it goes bad, but ran out of time.  That is practically a Thanksgiving feast. And while I am cooking all of that, I am cleaning dishes along the way so that there won’t be a huge pile for whoever gets stuck with kitchen duty.  All on auto-pilot.

The interesting thing in all of this is that it happens every Sunday. The menu might be different, but the outcome is the same.  I spend my entire day cooking in one form or another without planning to spend my entire day cooking.  It just happens by default.  When someone at work asks, “What are you going to do this weekend?”  I never respond that I am going to cook for three hours.  In my mind, cooking is a minor detail.  But in reality, it turns out to be the focal point of my weekend.

You might just call this poor planning.  I had a reason to make each and every one of those dishes, but I didn’t do a very good job of planning them out or maybe spreading some of that out over the weekend.  But then again, my Saturday was spent in default grocery store mode, where I procrastinate making the list, then make it really late, then go to two grocery stores to get everything, getting home two hours later, making my whole grocery adventure about 3 hours long.

The only way out of this predicament is to plan  to not be home on the weekend.  To design a weekend that does not include 6 hours of focused attention on food.

And when you think about it, it is not just the weekend that can get sucked up like this if you are not careful.  The same thing can happen to you at work, where instead of designing your week and carving out time to work on your priorities, you work on one random thing after another, in the order that they occur to you or come at you, until you look up at five o’clock and realize that you have spent the entire day cooking random dishes and you are exhausted.   

And if that is happening at work and on the weekends, it is happening to your whole life.

Just some food for thought.


  1. Linda Heidelmaier Baker

    WOW Rene – this is MY life except I do this EVERY SINGLE DAY! I guess I never really realized it until I read this. I too make several dishes each and every day to please all of my family members…………. Insane yet I do it each and every day. I am going to work on being more mindful of this! Thank you! 🙂

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