Putting the “Function” back in Executive Functioning

executive function“Did you remember your lunch?”

“Don’t forget your homework!”


Does your morning sound like this? You are not alone!

After spending 2 years doing freelance and contract work from home, I recently decided to return to working in an office at a full-time job. I knew that it would be challenge, for many reasons, but mostly because my son and I have gotten into a morning routine that would need to change. I would not call this a routine of efficiency, mind you, but one that seems to scream “it’s a miracle that we even got out of the house today.”

My son is 8 and he has diagnosed learning and attention issues. A lot of this affects his executive functioning skills. Think of executive functioning as the CEO of the brain, controlling how you go about motor planning, reasoning, and problem solving. A great example of his executive functioning deficiencies are his putting on his backpack before he puts on his coat—he’s not thinking in quite the right order.

Unfortunately, working with him on his executive functioning skills has told me that I have the very same issues, in spades. While my motor planning is pretty good, I’m often running around trying to put together my lunch, or making sure I’ve remembered my laptop and my cell phone—I often leave the house without them, knowing that I’ve forgotten something, but not sure exactly what it might be. And let’s not even talk about the time I headed out in tights but no skirt.

It’s stressful for everyone, and it often ends up with one or both of us yelling at each other, to hurry up and tie shoes, brush teeth, or find the last yogurt for the lunchbox.

I knew there had to be a way to make it easier for us. After a great deal of reflection, it came down to a simple kindness, from me to me. Or rather, my Present Self to my Future Self, and it can work for you too…

Take your average Sunday night. You’re tired, and want to hang out your couch catching up with the goings-on of “The Good Wife”. You don’t want to worry about work stuff, because that can wait till the morning. But the truth is, it shouldn’t. Your Present Self in that moment should think about Future Self running around on Monday morning trying to keep everything together, and show a little kindness to her. Charge your phone near your bags so you don’t forget it. Pack your lunch and your kid’s lunch so it’s ready to run out the door with you. Pour cereal into bowls to save some time. Sure, it’s more work than you may want to handle, but when you prep the night before, you’re not under the gun and can think clearly.
We’ve also taken to writing lists of everything that we need to do before we leave the house, and we work on tackling it together. This way, we’re both improving and helping each other. Having Present Self think of Future Self also gives us a context to understand why and how we are doing what we do.

We may never look like a NASCAR pit crew, but we’re getting better every day.

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