How To Break Out Of Your Autopilot Work Mentality

As humans, we tend to let ourselves fall into familiar routines – especially while working.
“Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself,” wrote influential philosopher William James on habit.
Mona Patel, founder and CEO of the New York City firm Motivate Design (, has seen the many shades of the autopilot work mentality, from severe creative block to those who haven’t even realized they have a problem. Either way, it’s always worth asking whether there’s a better way, she says.
Patel, author of “Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate and Think,” offers steps that have helped awaken her many Fortune 500 clients. 
• Step 1: If you’re stuck or not sure, ask “What if?” Are you treading water? What are your work goals that you haven’t yet achieved? Can you imagine a new way of achieving those goals? If you answer “I can’t,” then it’s time to reframe how you think. “I can’t” predetermines unaccomplished goals, but asking the question “What if?” is the first step to opening the door of possibility.  

• Step 2: Start making the “What ifs?” real with your work team. Schedule a meeting and start with a silent warm-up ideation period of three minutes, and then write down as many “What if” ideas as possible. Let people come up with ideas at the same time and write them down, so more vocal people don’t have an advantage. Share the ideas with your team. Lather, rinse and repeat the process for more ideas. 

• Step 3: Follow good response practices when ideas are shared. There are helpful guidelines when responding to a group. Saying “plus one” means you have a similar suggestion to one being shared. It streamlines the process and strengthens bonds between those with similar ideas. “Plus love” is a good way to express that you wish you came up with the idea. Hearing “plus love” on a crazy idea encourages you to come up with more crazy ideas and enables the group creatively. “I’m good” is a nicer and more positive way of saying “I don’t have any more ideas.” 

• Step 4: Filter your ideas. How much do you love an idea? Does it solve a real need? Will the idea save money and is it feasible? You may have 50 ideas, which you’ll want to whittle down to a single digit. Refine the evaluation by asking how easy or difficult an idea would be to execute. Then consider the “wow” – meaning how much this would impact one’s life, or how much a client would like it.
“It’s one thing to offer a client fresh ideas, but it’s much better to teach them how to discover new ideas for themselves,” Patel say.
About Mona Patel
Mona Patel ( is the CEO and Founder of Motivate Design, a user-centered design agency based in New York City that helps Fortune 500 clients. Motivate Design helps clients discover customer needs and design solutions that meet those needs.

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