5 Tips for better Executive Functioning – Part 1


EF Management Tips and Tricks
Systems vs. Solutions

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
PART ONE: In support of The Executive Functioning Series

Introduced in an older article, ADD/ADHD and TIME: will ANYthing work?, this is what I remind my students and private clients:

Even though they are not exactly the same thing, most people with Executive Functioning challenges have quite a bit in common with people who have been diagnosed with ADD.

In addition to short-term memory glitches, the things that seem to negatively impact effectiveness most often are problems with activation and follow through.

When I work backwards to figure out what’s going on, I almost always discover foundational problems with time management and/or troubles with transitions.

Both of these struggles are exacerbated when few of life’s details are systematized, which means that very little can be put on auto-pilot.  Every action requires a conscious decision – which not only requires a greater number of transitions (that eat up time), it burns up cognitive resources.

  • “Processing space” in the conscious portion of our brains is not unlimited, at least not in the bottomless well meaning of unlimited. Consciousness is a resource-intensive process – your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources making the same decisions over and over again.
  • DECISIONS are prefrontal cortex intensive – using the conscious pathways in your reaction/response mechanism – whether you are making a major decision or one as seemingly inconsequential as to what kind of ice cream you want in your cone.
  • The greater number of day-to-day to-dos you can relegate to unconscious processing, the more cognitive bandwidth you make available for tasks that truly require you to think about them consciously.
  • That means “standardizing” the timing and the steps – developing systems – so that they become HABITS.

Caveat: there are no one-size solutions

Despite my dislike of articles and books that offer seemingly fix-it-ALL tips and tricks, from time to time I still share online tips myself. 

  • I usually add the qualification that nothing works for everyone any more than one size really fits all – at least not very well.
  • I prefer to share the underlying principles, so that readers might be able to figure out how to tweak to fit – kinda’ like some of those fashion sites that tell you how to use a sewing machine to take a nip here and a tuck there.

But many people can’t sew, not everyone wants to take the time to learn, and most of us have trouble keeping up with what we are already trying to squeeze into our days.

That’s why some people make a living doing alterations –
or, in my case, coaching change.

 

HOWEVER, for those of you who have the time and motivation, I’m about to share again what many of my private clients hire me to help them put into place (no matter what “problem” we are working on at the time) – what I call my 5 System Basics.

I have to warn you, however, that few of my clients have ever really heard me the first few dozen times, so don’t be too surprised when the importance of some of these basics float right past you too.

Even when you’re desperate, change is flat-out HARD!

Try to remember as you read:

These aren’t merely a collection of five simple “suggestions.” If you have already noticed a few functioning struggles, try to hold them in your mind as practically absolutes – but lightly.

The five underlying concepts I’m about to share really do need to be accommodated in some fashion — with systems and work-arounds in place — before most of us are able to manage our energy toward follow through that doesn’t leave us endlessly chasing our own tails.

Lack of structure is really not the direction we want to travel if our goal is a life of ease and accomplishment.

Let ’em simmer in your brain’s slow-cooker.

As long as you don’t actively resist the ideas, (nit-picking the concepts or ruminating over the thoughts that yet another person simply doesn’t get it), you will be one step closer to having a handle on that follow-through thing, regardless of your current struggles with Executive Functioning.

Think of the underlying concepts, collectively, as a lever that will allow you to adjust your expectations appropriately, and to help you to figure out where you need to concentrate your time and effort ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible).

Trying to systematize a life without the basics
is like trying to start a car that’s out of gas.

  • Agonizing isn’t going to make a bit of difference.
  • Neither will “voting” – you may hate the idea, they may hate the idea. Sorry Charlie, it is simply what’s so
  • Hearing what a doofus you’ve been for not focusing on that little gas detail (especially hearing it internally) will shut you down and delay you further.
  • Go for the gas.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS WARNING!

The upcoming five concepts that will begin to put some gas in your car are simply that: FUEL.

Until you make sure your “car” has fuel, you can’t do much about checking to see if the starter is going bad. You may also learn you need to adjust the steering mechanism. Oh yeah, and you certainly won’t get very far on lousy tires.

  • You don’t expect your car to magically transform with a little gas, do you?
  • How about a whole tank full of gas?
  • How about gas and four new tires?

Yeah, right!

Try to remember that the next time the self-flagellation begins, as well as when you feel defensive and become offensive.

You can’t eat an elephant in a day —
EVEN if you take one tiny bite at a time.

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