What is executive functioning?
Executive functioning (EF) is a series of mental processes that utilize our past experiences to make informed decision about present and future actions. Students who have EF related learning disabilities can face difficulties with:
• General organization
• Planning and time management
• Multitasking and prioritizing
• Shifting focus
• Asking for help
Ways to Cope with EF related learning disabilities
Fortunately, there are behavior-based strategies to work around these challenges. These strategies are like anything in life- successful execution is going to take lots of practice, and it’s important not to get discouraged if at you first you don’t succeed. It’s about progress, not perfection!
1. Use your Resources: Ask for Help, Early and Often
• Most schools have resources to help students overcome learning challenges, but students have to advocate for themselves. These resources usually include free counseling and tutoring, and reserved “quiet places” to do homework and take exams.
• Apply for extra time for exams- this will usually require an assessment by the school, and/or a doctor’s note, and can grant students the right to extra time on exams, the ability to use computers for written exams, and the ability to take exams in a quiet environment free from distraction.
2. Get to Know Your Professors
• Introduce yourself to your teachers at the beginning of the semester- be upfront about any concerns you may have about success in their course, and the fact that you face some learning challenges. Talk about flexibility in regards to deadlines- most professors will be willing to work with you. It’s better to discuss these issues up front, because if you wait until the day before your big project is due, the professor is going to be less inclined to work with you, and assume that the student is just lazy or making excuses.
3. Make Easy-to-Reference Checklists
• Utilize flashcards to make sure that you’re prepared each time you leave your dorm. Bullet out everything you need to take with you for class each day, or for club meetings, or sports, and tape those lists on your mirror, or by your door. Do a quick check before you head out the door each day.
4. Use Tools to Stay Organized
• Utilize large, easy to read visual planning tools, like wall calendars and daily planners, and check them several times a day. Write due dates on your calendar and planners, so that you’re always aware of approaching deadlines.
• Don’t forget to schedule time for transitions (walking to class, catching the bus, etc.)
• Use a watch with multiple alarms to set reminders for different activities and to keep track of time. For example, if you want to spend 30 minutes working on a particular assignment, set two timers, one to alert you at the half-way point, and another to go off when time is up.
5. Break Your Work up into Manageable Chunks
• Don’t try to tackle big projects all at once!
• Always ask for written instructions if possible.
• Break large projects into smaller pieces, and assign a timeframe to each piece. (It’s better to overestimate how much time you’ll need!)
• Work backwards from the due date; if the assignment has 4 pieces, and each piece will take about 2 hours, you need to allot 4 different homework periods to working on each of those elements, and then probably another 2 hours block to make edits and revisions. That means you need to start the project at least 6 days before it is due, and you should probably give yourself even more time, just to be safe.
Consistent application of these strategies over time will absolutely contribute to success in college level academics and beyond. Remember, although it may seem to take longer at first, taking the time to be prepared and organized will ultimately save you time and headaches in the long run.
Do you struggle with executive function? How do you better your executive function skills?
Post your tips/comments below.
Adam holds a B.A. in History from Boston University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. Adam has been working as a private tutor since 2009, helping students with executive function and study skills coaching, standardized test prep, college application and essay writing, English language and writing development, study skills and executive functioning. He’s worked with students from diverse backgrounds, from high school to college graduate programs, both domestic and international. Adam honed his own time management skills in college, where he juggled a full time and a part time job while also attending to his own full time studies. Adam is an Eagle Scout, and a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda national honor society. Adam plans on returning to school to pursue a Master’s in Education, and in his free time is an avid trail runner. em>