Putting things on autopilot gets more DONE

Systems Development puts things on Autopilot
and supercharges your Executive Functioning

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
From the Brain-based Coaching Series

My usual Friday post is posting a day early this week, to give you time to read it before Tinkertoy‘s post on National Dog Day – this Saturday, August 26, 2017

Don’t strain your brain!

Some things take a lot of “cognitive bandwidth” — which is a fancy way to say that your brain needs to work especially hard to do them.

Other things are so “automatic” we often say we can do them in our sleep.

The more things you can do without conscious thought, the more brain cells you make available for the areas where they are really needed.

  • Almost everything takes a lot of cognitive bandwidth at first introduction.  Nothing is automatic when we’re beginners — every piece of the puzzle takes concentration.
  • There are multiple decisions to be made – or recalled – at every step along the path of learning anything.  That’s HARD work for a brain. It’s an expensive process, in brain currency.
  • However, once a task becomes familiar it’s sometimes difficult to recall why we ever struggled with it to begin with. It’s become automatic – a habit – a system.
  • BUT systems development will never happen unless you follow its rules.  And that’s where systems development coaching is pure gold.

Let’s start at the very beginning with a bit of review . . .

What IS systems development coaching?

Systems Development Coaching is a way of working that focuses on helping a client discover the underlying concepts that will help them develop systems targeted to what works best for them. I’m about to share some of the ways we go about it for those of you taking the Lone Ranger approach.

But FIRST, let’s define our terms

system is a set or arrangement of things
so related as to form an organic whole.

Whenever you activate a system you are freed from having to burn up cognitive resources remembering each individual step — less likely to get distracted in the middle of a task, or stopped cold by the need to make one of those “expensive” pre-frontal cortex intensive decisions in the moment.

Most people are a little fuzzy about systems, probably because the last systems development training most of us received was potty-training.

How many of you have to actively remember what-comes-next when you’re going to the bathroom? (Except for putting down the toilet seat of course!) I’m sure you rarely think about it at all.

Unless the toilet paper is missing or the toilet overflows, or the doorknob comes off in your hand, I’ll bet you barely recall the trip once you get back to what you were doing.

Have you ever looked “everywhere” for a pen or something until you finally find it in the bathroom – yet you didn’t remember going INTO the bathroom?  (Hey, here’s that little notepad too!)


Systems vs Solutions

When we focus on solutions, we are generally focused on “fixing” – because we hope to come up with something that will solve a particular problem.

When we focus on systems, we develop templates that can be picked apart
to solve all sorts of problems —
some of which we are then able to avoid altogether from that point on.

While solutions tend to be more specific, templates are modular. We can port pieces of working systems to new situations to propagate new systems.

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Becoming your own systems expert

I’ve been at this for almost three decades now, developing systems for all kinds of clients with all kinds of minds. So don’t expect yourself to jump right in at my level, even though you know yourself better than I ever could.

It will take some time and focused attention, and not everything will work the first time you try it.

Keep getting back on the horse.

Begin by scanning your life to see where you already have some systems on autopilot that you can Sherlock for ideas (No shoulds below, just suggestions about where to look).

Once your first system is in place, following some of the suggestions below, and you are in the habit of using it, pick it apart to see where else it might work.

  • Do you always make your bed the moment you get out of it?
  • How about putting dirty clothes in the hamper and hanging up what can be worn again before you get into whatever you sleep in?
  • Do you put your dirty dishes directly into the dishwasher so you never have to dig out the sink?  Do you run said dishwasher every night?  When do you empty it?
  • How about brushing your teeth or washing your face in the morning and the evening?
  • Have you taught yourself to put your keys in a specific place every time?

List whatever it is that you always do “practically in your sleep” and Sherlock exactly how you put those things in place.

  1. Check to see if they have anything in common.  For example, the time of day, items that support the habit, somebody who reminds you – whatever.
  2. Think back to whatever it was that made you realize you had to make it a habit to get it done.
  3. What happens when you don’t do them — meaning what happens that causes you to drop them out?

Use the data as you develop systems for other habits you need to put into place.

Other things to think about and put in place

Sherlock your day to identify what is not functioning & what functions well.  Set systems up accordingly:  YOU-based systems, not what others believe work best!

Recognize and anticipate potential problem spots — and figure out how to defend against them!  For example:

  1. Three alarm clocks & a wake up call for important appointments
  2. Mental dry-run through your routine whenever there’s a change
  3. Structuring your workspace to minimize distractions

Determine your most reliable processing style and make sure you use it,
for example:

  • Do you find your way best with maps or directions?
    Spoken or written?
  • When you are overwhelmed do you need to
    reduce visual clutter or auditory noise?
  • When you know you will need to recall something,
    does it help to say it aloud?

Question every oops (vs. beating yourself up about it)

  • When and where did things go sideways? (vs. “wrong”)
  • What could I have done instead of what I did?
  • WHEN did I need to do that?
  • “What systems can I set in place to protect myself?”

Always affirm that you CAN.  Your job is to keep asking yourself questions until you have developed the habit of asking questions with the expectation that you will be able to figure it out.

Continue to set up new systems and tweak to fit

  1. Remember to use multi-modal learning during the habit building phase
  2. Keep making schedules: one appointment book with all agreements
  3. Bite-size pieces: Lists broken down into steps
  4. Set up your life to eliminate sources of struggle, for example:

a.  A place for keys, purse, briefcase, shoes, etc. (near the door where you exit each day)
b.  A “coming home” routine that never varies – and tell those who tend to distract you what it is. (“First I hang my coat, put keys on the hook, my purse or briefcase in its place, etc., then I can give you a hug and tell you about my day.”)
c.  Set up a boggle room: a quiet room for time outs — yours!
d.  Track time – use a watch or a timer that beeps quietly every 30 to 60 minutes to remind you that time is passing (are you on task?)
e.  Keep an envelope in your purse or wallet for dry-cleaning slips, etc.

Use organization tools: containers for items and data

Educate & involve others — and set firm boundaries around the things you need in order to focus.

Communicate possible problems when you first “inkle”
This is really important for those of us with ADD/EFD!

  1. “Your birthday on the [name the day] is really important to me so lets plan it now and then remind me the night before to make sure I don’t drop out what day it is. I lose track of now sometimes.”
  2. “I seem to be really distractible today so please don’t take it personally if I seem not to be paying attention.  Help me to re-focus on you if I lose it.”
  3. “I know it seems silly to you to be spending money on closet organizers, but they really will make a huge difference in my functioning day-to-day.  I’d be willing to cut back somewhere else to pay for them.”

More to come . . .

I will continue to expand on the Systems concept in the ongoing series on Systems Development. Much of the content in this article was taken from The Systems Module of the world’s first ADD-specific coach training, the A.C.T. Training I developed and debuted after establishing The Optimal Functioning Institute™ in the early 90’s.

KEEP YOUR EYE OUT for an announcement of a Systems Development TeleClass designed especially for the folks who will be using them. I’ll coach you through systematizing one of your areas of struggle in a group format.

Get in touch if you’d like more personalized attention now.
I’d LOVE to be your coach!

© 1994, 1999, 2017 Madelyn Griffith Haynie, All Rights Reserved

Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

Shared on the Senior Salon

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the upcoming Systems Development Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

79 Responses to Putting things on autopilot gets more DONE

  1. Pingback: Developing those habits | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: September is the BEST time for what activity? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Learning new systems keeps our minds active and I’m sure helps to ward off dementia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES! Much of what you read in many blogs will caution against putting things on autopilot — in a black and white “mindfulness” fashion, misunderstood in many cases. Our brains simply cannot use cognitive bandwidth for everything! It’s resources are limited by biology.

      Plus, thinking through cause and effect is GREAT “brain-exercise,” albeit time-consuming, “expensive” in attentional terms. It only makes sense to put what I call “the treadmill tasks” on autopilot to release cognitive resourses for more important activities.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. dgkaye says:

    You’re articles are so inspiring and so helpful to so many M. I’m also fascinated by the so much you give of yourself in your posts. I’m also happy to say that I do make my bed every morning, dirty clothes go directly in the hamper, and when I’m done eating, dishes go straight to the dishwasher. Does this make me anal or just very organized? LOL Hugs my friend. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very key information to get ahead. Some good strategies here to apply in our routines.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you very much! Another piece of very good information getter better self-organized. Have a great weekend ahead. ,-) Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s exactly what we were doing with students in my school: developing systems that enabled them to function socially, emotionally, and, of course, academically.
    Great article!
    Love the horse cartoon – reminds me of someone-not-to-be-named in my house taking out garbage and spilling some of it on my clean kitchen floor: “But I did take out garbage!”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christy B says:

    It truly is interesting that many of our activities aren’t noticed because they have become “automatic” ~ as you say, an example is when we go use the washroom UNLESS there’s something out of the ordinary. Another gem of a post, Madelyn xo

    Liked by 1 person

  9. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie advises us to not strain our brains any more than necessary by developing systems – and put more things on autopilot. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. -Eugenia says:

    I am a fairly organized person and have my daily routines. Some of which take no extra thought because they are my way of life. I do develop new routines and/or improve the old ones. There can always be a better way to do things. I’ll admit when my routines get messed up, I can become frustrated but it’s going to happen and maybe for a good reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, Madelyn. And so interesting. I can definitely see how formulating a system for the things I DON’T like to do can be helpful. I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to things like housework. A system (or a bunch of them) would probably help. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have always been an organized person and I have many routines that I do without thinking that help me stay on track. Since I’ve been blogging, I have more trouble staying focused, particularly if I get sucked into the black hole of social media. I set a timer for a while which helped me stay more productive, and reading this article has motivated me to go back to that. If it is open ended I ignore some of the essentials while getting ‘lost’ in nonproductive activities. I need quiet to do my thinking tasks too. Except for the sound of me talking to myself, that is. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. While I don’t have ADHD I’m a high functioning ABI. I cope really well with systematic stuff. And I put on music and I can smash out just about anything. Cheers,H

    Liked by 1 person

    • Similar attentional issues with ABI/TBI, Helen – thanks for adding this. When I had room for a home gym I had my routines choreographed to certain tunes. Turn on, tune in. Cleaning to music works for me too – but I can’t write to it or plan with it in the background. I need quiet for thinking tasks.


  14. I grinned while reading…yesterday we missed the phone… it was in the sink of the guest toilet… I’m sure it wasn’t me…. or I’m sure, I’m not sure it wasn’t me :o)))

    Liked by 2 people

    • lolllllllll — I’m right with you on that one. I live alone (except for Tink, who is waaay too small to move many things around) – and I am frequently amazed by the things I find in strange places. 😦 🙂

      Thought of you earlier today. Tink went for his vet “annual” and there was a 15 year-old Phenny-dog in the waiting room with us (Weimaraners will forever be “Phenny-dogs” to us now). Sent his mom to your blog – hope she follows up.

      btw- Tink tried to leave a comment last night and we couldn’t get it to “take” no matter what I did. On about try #3 I saved it in TextEdit so here ’tis below:
      WOW, Phenny. Your walks are a lot more interesting than most of mine. We don’t have forts and trees like that near where I live – and no circles. Tomorrow I have to take a bath, since I’m going to see my vet in the afternoon – so I don’t think I’ll get to walk anywhere there are trees and dirt until we come back.

      Mom hugs me too – but I mostly like it. She just likes to hug longer than I do. I guess I’d better get ready – she LOVES hugging me after she fluffs me up after a bath.
      Woof! TINK


  15. Mr. Militant Negro says:

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Yecheilyah says:

    Thanks for including my article! 💪😎

    Liked by 1 person

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