Pardon if this topic has been beaten to death, but I am very interested to hear how other gamers manage the automation and why; like which parts of it you use, and when/if you turn other aspects of it on. Some fresh perspective might help all of us tweak our games differently.
Here's my initial thoughts:
After the automation inefficiency made me dislike the game, give a thumbs-down review on Steam, and stop playing it (that review has since been corrected), I've come back because of the other well imagined aspects of the game and have tried to minimize the impact of automation on my gaming fun.
So in the pre-warp era, the only thing I automate is the colony policies, mainly because I have no clue what that is, heh. I set my tax to 0 for the massive population growth out of the blocks, and only inch it up as finances demand it. I make certain my explorers survey areas close enough to be useful to me (rather than letting them wander way out like they tend to do). Then once my home world is smoking, I turn tax automation on and let it do the juggling (it seems to handle new colonies perfectly, but then again, it's hard to screw that up). I personally manage my own defense fleets and pirate hunters, since that's so critical early on--I know from my last game that pirates can really stunt growth, and in my current game, I managed them so well I think that's why I was so far ahead of other empires, even those who I set ahead of me in tech/starting setup.
Once I have about 10 colonies, my eyes begin to cross from trying to handle everything, so I automate patrol fleets and exploration and (only if my income is substantial) the constructors. I will probably never let the automation handle heroes since in my first game it placed a fleet admiral on a weaponless troop transport (had 2 grouped together for convenience's sake). And I can tell from the preset designs that it'd be foolishness to let the AI handle my ship designs.
Do you handle things differently? How and why?