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Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  885 ratings  ·  145 reviews
"Andrew Smart wants you to sit and do nothing much more often – and he has the science to explain why.

At every turn we’re pushed to do more, faster and more efficiently: that drumbeat resounds throughout our wage-slave society. Multitasking is not only a virtue, it’s a necessity. Books such as Getting Things Done, The One Minute Manager, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effectiv
Paperback, 148 pages
Published July 2013 by OR Books (first published 2013)
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Average rating 3.48  · 
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 ·  885 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Dec 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic-psych
Interesting but flawed, this little book (really more like a long essay) argues that we would all be happier, more creative, and maybe even more productive if we spent more time doing absolutely nothing. Except "argues" is kind of the wrong word -- it's really more of a rant, or maybe a manifesto, than a sustained argument. There are some gaping holes between premise and conclusion, and instead of addressing them, Andrew Smart just continues repeating his conclusion louder and louder.

There are t
Emma Sea
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. Pretty good, but I felt the structure let it down. The first 8 chapters are all evidence for the need for humans to have down time, and then in the final chapter suddenly it's "Work is Destroying the Planet," a criticism of GDP as a useful measurement, and the utopia of a world without work. Seriously, this is a whole second book. You can't just throw five pages of that in there and then abruptly finish the book. Either expand on it, or leave it for the followup book. And I would read ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-science
Found the core subject (neurological benefits of idleness and noise) to be pretty interesting, but rather than expanding the topic by adding suggestions on making these concepts actionable, large portions of the book are spend grinding personal and political axes, which was a bit disappointing.
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
It was a $1.95 daily deal from Audible. Also, I like doing nothing and am looking for further justification.

I got bored and the big words were putting me to sleep. On a positive note, I did find myself reverting to autopilot quite a bit when I was trying to listen...
Bon Tom
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Books like this are trailblazers of new paradigms. I'm certain it will be another 100 years before this becomes common sense, but those who give it a chance will almost certainly enjoy better quality of life. In short, we live in the mad world right now with all those stupid productivity tools and supposedly cool gadgets that enable us to work "on the go" and be "more productive". It's insanity. Stop it. ...more
Don't. Just don't. Do not waste any moments of your life picking up this book. You will wish you hadn't. I want my hour back.

Great concept, poor execution. The book reads like an essay written by a 6th grader. It may be more accurately titled "Why I hate Six Sigma, and, and, it STINKS! So there!" before kicking productivity gurus in the shins and running away to hide amongst the stacks of pop psychology and business lit. The subtitle could be, "Here's a bunch of pseudoscience, half-ass philosop
Michael Burnam-Fink
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
Show me on this brain where Six Sigma hurt you.

Autopilot is a pop-science/manifesto, where Andrew Smart, a machine learning engineer with a background in neuroscience, argues that busyness is a curse, and that idleness is actually a necessary and useful part of being human. The book has a kind of freshman earnest intensity that overwhelms the argument. I'll buy that there is a resting network in the brain, that activates when we aren't thinking about or doing anything in particular, but I'm not
Mandeep Singh
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Have you ever wondered why even after abundant technological progress , we continue to work so hard and seem to always be short on leisure time . If yes , then this just could be a good book to read .
Andrew Smart takes cues from psychology and neuroscience to explain the significance of being idle in a hyper competitive world where overachieving is new normal .
A thought provoking analysis , this work of pop science will surely let you enjoy your idling and have those Aha moments of epiphany prob
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was really good until he decided to turn it into a Six Sigma attack, which I thought hijacked the initial point of the book and tainted a more global understanding of being in "autopilot." There's no wrap up of all the concepts he touched on, the earlier ones being most interesting. ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
It’s important to do nothing because science, bitches! That’s all I got. Sorry. I’m too lazy to write a review. Which I trust the author would approve of. This is an interesting treatise on the why of doing nothing. But they don’t actually go into the how.
Dec 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
This is a thinly veiled anti-capitalist rant. The first problem is that the author mistakes consumerism for free market capitalism. The next problem is that he raises some important points only to negate them by his freshman year tirade against capitalism. Is the idle mind really the playground of the devil? Do we create busy work for the illusion of productivity? Does the mind work better after some time off? These were good questions that could have used more in-depth coverage. I probably woul ...more
Bert Heymans
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very insightful, a great case against over-optimisation and the grossly negative effects of neglecting the human condition in business.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I finished reading it last night. It's a quick read being such a short book.

I enjoyed the first half of the book when he is dealing with the neuroscience of our bodies' need for rest.

The back half of the book takes off into his personal rants against things totally off-topic -- 6 Sigma, the evils of capitalism, banking, and rich people.

He also fails to make an elementary distinction between our need for rest ("doing nothing") and those who are always resting (the lazy, slothful, and indolent)
Benjamin Lupton
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What beyond good and evil did to morality, this book does to productivity.
Genius with the exception of his blank slate worldview, his talk about ants is unaware of group selection and personality heritability and biology, and his last chapter is left-wing communistic virtue signalling which haidt or rand or bastiat counter (that the socialistic ideal is achieved through capitalism, not by money redistribution as redistributing money does not redistribute wealth, wealth must be created and shared
Jerrod Carter
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed all the science in this book and learning about what our brain is busy doing when we think we're being non-productive with "wasteful" activities like day-dreaming and staring off into space thinking about nothing. Mr. Smart has done a very nice job of making a strong case for more stopping to smell the flowers and helped explained why I seem to get a lot of good ideas in the shower and out on a run.

I think he stretched his brain science too far, though, when he clumsily tried to
Kent Winward
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The thought of mindful relaxation was a great counterbalance to the societal urge to constantly excel and go. I read this at the same time I read Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much and the two books dovetailed nicely for me. The creation of system "slack" was a theme in "Scarcity" and this seemed to be Smart's point as well. We need to cut our brain some slack, so it can do its job, rather than pushing it with a constant barrage of caffeine and activity.

Oh and since Amazon can't seem
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This is one of those book that I wished I had a print version so I could annotate it. The first part of the book was most interesting to me as it covered research into brain function when our brains are busy and idle, multi-tasking, creativity and stochastic resonance, and the need for down time to reset our brains.

The last part of the book focuses on society's need to always be busy, suggesting that spending more time being idle and "lazy" may actually be beneficial. The author also tackles Six
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was definitely worth a read (or listen). It's short, but describes a concept I'd long suspected but had no scientific evidence to support. Our brains are doing a lot more than we suspect, and down time is just as important as up time- especially to the creative minded. Watching a movie, zoning out on the couch, and enjoying nature hikes are all as vital to productivity as any time management program. Fascinating book. ...more
Dec 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Great concept, but extremely flawed execution. I was going to give this book two stars as I did take away some useful information, but the author's rants about the evils of capitalism, corporations, banks, and rich people got to be more than I could bear. I found myself having to take breaks from reading because it kept making me angry. I'd like to see someone write about this topic and just focus on the science, leaving out the off-topic, cheap political jibes. ...more
Brian Layman
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2015
Descending from science to pseudoscience to raves about Apple and iPhones and quotes about the occupy movement and rants about corporation management and the rich never giving to the poor, this was an increasingly disappointing read. I had found it interesting at first. It is a shame some readers were turned off by the big words at the start. About half way through he'd run out and just started ranting.
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
The connection between the claim and the artifacts that he provides in the book to support the claim is incoherent. I can understand the virtue of the book, however the building up toward that claim is very poor.
Tadas Talaikis
Dec 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Somewhat weak, what I got is only few things, for example, explanation from where spontaneous ideas/ thoughts come from. The thing here is you still need to switch for implementations, default mode creates nothing itself.
Tord Helsingeng
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
The real gem in this book is the discussion on stochastic resonance in the last chapters. Very inspiring and thought-provoking, with implications for meditation research and practice, flow state induction, and audio mixing..
Augusto Delgado
Apr 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, bizness
Very interesting book.

As a Marxist and a former 6sMBB (yes, rara avis indeed) I've got to say that the author approach is missing an important factor in his disregard for the Six Sigma methodology, which in turn makes his valid and solid points fall just shy off target:
The capitalist mode of production, with its relentless pursuit of relative surplus value.
Capitalists pursue for ways to extract profit from the exploited labourers, whether those be the old fashioned slave driver with a whip, dr
Inderpreet Uppal
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
The tagline of the book, Auto – Pilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing is what attracted me to the book. I wanted to know if my thoughts on the concept of being idle resonated with the book and author.

The author makes it abundantly clear in the first few pages itself that he is fighting the age-old ideology.

“Our contradictory fear of being idle, together with our preference for sloth, may be a vestige from our evolutionary history.”

Auto – Pilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing is a book th
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting nuggets hidden in a passingly interesting book

The book explores the benefits of idleness (defined as the antithesis of busyness) - i.e. perhaps doing one or two things a day, crucially on an internally imposed schedule.

I can see a link between idleness and creativity, original thought, or deep reflection. I think most people do.
But structure, planning, scheduling, standardization, and seeking to optimize things is not necessarily a bad thing in itself like it is portrayed in the book
Joseph V.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting read with a strong premise and a bit of a flawed conclusion, but the abundance of neuroscience, clearly presented, is fascinating to say the least. Who knew that your brain was working so powerfully at "rest"? The modern world is jam-packed with demands, distractions, and notifications to the point of absurdity, and the pace and need for constant pointless busywork and an utter disdain for idleness (the default mode of ancient humans and primates, when we weren't engaged ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
I was hoping for a discussion on increased productivity through automation. Instead I got a treatise aspiring for a "post-work" society, where everyone loafs about doing literally nothing.

The content about the neural benefits of stillness were interesting. We do have a place for stillness and idleness built into our society. It's called sleep.

The benefits of wakeful stillness are also valued by some societies, as manifested in mindfulness meditation, and contemplative spirituality. We do have so
John Millard
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wrote a bit partway but it does not seem to be part of “a review”. I started out loving this book if only for the spherical/ non linear description of the brain and in my mind growth in general. Then I disliked the book because it seemed to indicate that Newton came by his concepts by being lazy with no real incentive to perform which seemed egregiously wrong. The author seemed to go off on some sociological tangents making broad generalizations that I did not like. In the end when the author ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
A lot of scientific and historical facts are explained in this book, which makes it a bit boring to read, a fact not helped by the extremely dry writing style. My brain went autopilot and skipped many paragraphs.

There's nothing smart about how the author tries to stitch together too many concepts and topics in this short book. His ideas ended up scattered all over the place. Some of the points raised by the author may be sound, but the way he executes his arguments makes them sound tenuous at be
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Andrew Smart is the author of Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing. A scientist and engineer interested in consciousness, brains and technology, his work traverses the boundaries of neuroscience, philosophy, culture, radical politics and metaphysics. He was raised in the U.S., educated and married in Sweden, lived in New York and Minneapolis and now lives in Switzerland.

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