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.


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.

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

HOVER before clicking – often a box will appear to tell you what to expect

Exercises in Systematizing

Like a mantra: Working effectively within the boundaries of time is an exercise in systematizing. Essential concepts need to be accepted – with systems and work-arounds in place – before you stand a prayer of a chance of functioning at the top of your game.

As I have said many times in many prior articles . . .

  • There are a lot of pieces to that systematizing concept.
  • “Pieces” require juggling, cognitively.
  • Cognitive juggling is highly PFC intensive [prefrontal cortex]
  • Guess where the ADD/EFD/TBI/PTSD brain is most impaired?
    Yep, the good ole’ PFC.

Don’t make it harder than it is already – the sooner you make friends with the concepts I’m about to share, the sooner life gets easier.

FIVE Underlying System Basics

For those of you who are cognitive processors (who assimilate information best with a bit of a preview), in articles to come I’m going to unpack five important ideas, covering a few of the finer points:

1. Feed Your Head 
2. Structure is your friend
3. Nothing takes a minute

4. Write it down!
5. PAD your schedule
PAD-ing: Planning Aware of Details™

Before we get into explanations, let’s review the principle underlying the reason why developing systems is a good idea in the first place.

Systems Development Coaching

Systems Development Coaching focuses on helping clients discover the underlying concepts and action steps that will help them develop person-specific systems.

A SYSTEM is a set or arrangement of things so related as to form an organic whole. ~ mgh

When an ADD/EFDer (or anyone else) “activates a system,” s/he is freed from having to remember each individual step — less likely to get distracted in the middle of the task — or stopped cold by the need to make one of those pesky pre-frontal cortex intensive decisions in the moment.

For most of us, the last systems development training we received was potty-training, despite the absolute effectiveness of the technique. Almost ALL of us learn to do it – effortlessly and flawlessly.

How many of us forget to do what-comes-next when we’re going to the bathroom?
Or even give it a thought?


Systems vs. Solutions

• When we focus on solutions, we generally aim them at solving particular problems.
• When we focus on systems, we develop templates for solving all sorts of problems.

While solutions tend to be more specific, templates are modular – we can port pieces of working systems to new situations to propagate new systems.

Neat, huh?

Systems Development Coaching techniques help us Sherlock our struggles to locate the parts of those repeated tasks that force us to use our conscious mind, in turn increasing our vulnerability to distraction, overwhelm and procrastination.

  • When we spend the up-front time to think through each step of a task consciously, we can discover the sticking points and make some changes in how we do what we do.
  • When we link the new-and-improved steps into a sequence, we are than able to work on doing them the same way every time — on the way to developing an effective habit that can be filed subconsciously and put on auto-pilot.
  • At that point, we no longer debit the limited space on the “Post-It Note™” of working memory needlessly. We become more effective. We get more done. And life becomes easier.

It’s not rocket science – it’s BRAIN science – and brain-based coaching.

Related Post: Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it

Keep in mind as you read the principles to come:

While each of you will probably need to tweak to fit, embracing the five underlying concepts I’m about to underscore will help most of you go a l-o-n-g way toward managing your energy within time’s boundaries effectively.

After a while, every time you hit a bump in your road, you will automatically look for ways you can systematize things to avoid similar bumps in the future.

As increasingly more of the day-to-day to-dos of your life become automatic, the more time and energy you will have for the things that are more fun – or more stimulating – or actually more important.

Stay Tuned!

We’ll get started with the first of the Five System Basics in the very next post (articles post on Mondays and Fridays).

Meanwhile, for you eager beavers, click on a few of the many links in this section for a bit of explanation and help right now. They’ll pop out as red and underlined as you run your cursor across subtle grey text. Hover before clicking for a bit of a preview of what you are likely to find when you click.

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IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

57 Responses to 5 Tips for better Executive Functioning – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Putting things on autopilot gets more DONE | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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  3. Pingback: Time management tips for better Executive Functioning | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: Executive Functioning Systems | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. da-AL says:

    Guest post. I much appreciate your putting it in such practical terms 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christy B says:

    Madelyn, I like how you offer detailed information with the acknowledgement attached that it’s never a one-size-fits-all solution and that one has to be reasonable in what they get out of it. Excellent post – as always! I came here from John’s reblog. How wonderful is he?!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie provides us with eminently useful tips to improve our executive functions. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Systems help individuals and corporations be more efficient in my experience. I have always developed a ‘system’ to make things work well for me, whether it’s my morning routine to get to work on time, or my morning routine at work that helps me accomplish the days’ tasks/goals. I will be interested in your future posts on this subject – important for success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ABSOLUTELY! People who use them swear by them – but I have experienced quite a bit of “push back” from folks who don’t, even when their life could clearly benefit by the development of a few habitual ways of getting things done.

      I share a client story in the section where I talk about “write it down.” His life finally began to turn around when he began to do so, but it took quite a bit for him to give it a try.

      Thanks for taking the time to underscore with a comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. dgkaye says:

    Gosh this makes so much sense Madelyn. I loved the term, ‘Sherlock your struggles’. You have such a gift with words my friend. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent suggestions, all very helpful. Of course, writing down, planning details, and making lists are exactly the trainable skills which necessitate coaching!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If they weren’t taught in school, they certainly do, most likely. Thanks, Dolly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a marked difference in planning and organizing skills between, for instance, my brother who finished high school and one year of college in the USSR, and my husband, a product of American schools – both ADHD kids. Nobody is taught these skills here, but through private coaching!

        Liked by 1 person

        • And a few schools like YOURS, of course – but these foundational skills have been sadly neglected in most American schools for years.

          Parents can’t teach their kids what they’ve never learned themselves.

          Interesting that Russia does for its populace what America does not (and seems, taking a look at “the common core,” to actively devalue) – so sad, since it makes such a difference.

          Where education is concerned it is certainly NOT “America first.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • My school implemented professional coaching; that’s different. I completely agree that parents who do not realize what they themselves are lacking, have no idea what their children need to be taught, let alone how.

            Russian educational system is modeled after the German gymnasia, i.e highly structure, with learning discipline prioritized. American education, on the contrary, has been elitist from the beginning and still is. We’ve discussed it before, I recall.

            Liked by 1 person

            • We have – and also the results of that American elitist focus – coming to a ‘yuge’ Orange head last November, and totally clear in the appointment of our current Secretary of Education!!

              SO cool that your school worked with professional coaches. ::BIG smile here::


  11. Wow, a lot of serious meat here Madelyn. All good sustaining information that are the basis of a strong life. These 5 points are the basics to build on.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. GP Cox says:

    All great advice, Madelyne. I found when I was still working, on any job, one must prioritize the chores of the day to be effective. Similar to a triage.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hey you have a wonderful blog 😁😊

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great, great words and an awesome post of so much encouragement and inspiration, Madelyn. There are so many occupations in this world and one can focus on anyone that they like. Thanks for the lovely pictures and share.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I currently feel like this dog ;o) but I will declutter my minds now and I write down what I really need to do, all other things have to wait ;o)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tink chases his tail for fun – until he tires himself out and settles down for a little snooze. It’s not so much fun when I do it!

      But sometimes I get so caught up in chasing that I don’t do what I know will help me settle down and move forward – and it seems that I don’t wear out and go lie down like Tink.

      We humans aren’t nearly as wise as dogs sometimes. 🙂
      xx, mgh


  16. Lucy Brazier says:

    Your articles are always so useful and enlightening. I like to (attempt!) to keep my brain in tip-top functioning order and I always find something on your site that helps. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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