As creatures of habit we find ourselves cruising on autopilot often. Research shows we often don't do what makes us happiest, we do what's easy. Comfort seduces us into complacency, furthering adding distance between where we are today and where we want to be.
Autopilot is an inevitability. It seems unlikely that anybody is focusing on their most important task up until the exact moment it becomes less important. We can't avoid autopilot entirely, but we can become better at recognizing it.
We benefit from autopilot when it's steering us towards our goals at an acceptable speed. It hurts us when it steers us in the wrong direction, or too slowly. We can track the speed and direction of where we're going by paying attention to our dashboard.
Your dashboard should tell you where you're going, your estimated time of arrival given your current pace, and your required time of arrival. If, at any point, we see that we're no longer on track to arrive in time, we need to take control of the wheel ourselves.
We don't need to do much manual steering so long as we're paying attention. Tiny adjustments are all we need to re-calibrate our autopilot. We pass a lot of interesting places on our way to our destination, so we can't blame our autopilot from getting distracted from our most important task.
If your mind has been poisoned by the concept of productivity (like mine), you may assume your most important task is tied to your paycheck. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Once you've secured a reasonably enjoyable job you may realize you can make larger quality of life gains by working on skills unrelated to your work.
Keep an eye on your dashboard to make sure you're heading in the right direction, at the right speed.