EF Management Tips and Tricks

5 Tips for better Executive Functioning
Part II – Systems to Develop into Habits

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

Quick Review:

In the introduction to this 4-part article, I went over some of the concepts underlying “the systems approach” and why it works.

I explained how systems and habits help us conserve cognitive resources for when they are really needed.

I went on to add that despite my dislike of articles and books that offer seemingly fix-it-ALL tips and tricks, I still share online tips myself from time to time — and that I was about to share five of them, despite the fact that  I strongly prefer sharing underlying principles, so that anyone reading might be able to figure out how to tweak to fit. 

  • I appended the caveat that nothing works for everyone any more than one size fits all very well, despite what the merchants would like you to believe.
  • I’m sharing the “tips” for those of you who have the motivation (and time to dedicate) to figure out how to make an “off the rack” outfit fit you perfectly.

Since most of us have trouble keeping up with what we are already trying to shoehorn into our days, if you can’t “sew” and are disinclined to take the time to learn, remember that I offer systems development coaching, and would love to put my shoulder to your wheel.

For the rest of you, I’m about to gift you some foundational principles I work on with my private clients, right along with whatever it is they came to “fix” – what I call my 5 System Basics.

I have to warn you again, however, that few of my clients have ever really embraced them the first couple dozen times I brought them up, so don’t be too surprised when the importance of some of these Basics float right past you a few times too.

The sooner you make friends with the concepts I’m about to share – and put some systems into place around them – the sooner life gets easier, less frustrating, and a LOT more fun!


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FIVE Underlying System Basics

In this section we begin to look a bit more closely at the Basics themselves — covering only a few of the finer points, but more than enough to get you started.

In this post:
1. Feed Your Head

2. Structure is your FRIEND
3. Nothing takes a minute

Coming up:
4. Write it down (any “it”)
5. PAD your schedule
PAD-ing: Planning Aware of Details™

Try to remember as you read the principles to come:

While each of you will probably need to tweak to fit, the five underlying concepts I’m sharing need to be considered and embraced in some fashion — with systems and work-arounds in place — before you stand much beyond a prayer of a chance of managing your energy within time’s boundaries at your most effective.

Structure allows you to systematize — which is important to be able to develop HABITS. Your brain needs you to build those connections,.  Structure is the easiest way for most people — fewer in-the-moment decisions to be made.

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

REMEMBER: As long as you don’t actively resist (as if YOU are the exception, fighting the ideas or ruminating over the thoughts that yet another person simply doesn’t get it), you will be one step closer to getting a handle on that systematizing to follow-through thing, Executive Functioning struggles or NOT.

So let’s get started with Number One.

1. Feed Your Head

Whether you remember what the Door Mouse said or not, remember this:

your brain NEEDs them.

Neurotransmitters are the cognitive batons in brain-communication relay races. Without an adequate supply of any one of them, your dream of winning the Executive Functioning race is practically over before it begins. Your body can’t make them without your help.

*FOOD: Protein, specifically (especially in the wake-up transition period), supplies the precursors for the dopamine you need — PFC fuel.

The PFC (Pre-Frontal Cortex) is your brains CEO — that front part of the wrinkly “covering” of your brain, right behind your forehead, that keeps everything working together and at the appropriate time.

  • This keeps your get-up-and-go from lying down on the job.  Literally.
  • Sleep is a high-serotonin state, so the last thing you need in the morning is a plate full of carbs to supply serotonin precursors.  Save those for the evening meal to help you sleep.

*WATER: A healthy body is made up of 60% water. Every system in your body needs it to function. Your brain needs more than your body — and if you wait until you are thirsty you’re brain is already parched.

Few of us drink nearly enough or nearly often enough. (For anyone on ADD medication, that goes DOUBLE!) You may have heard that you should aim to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (64 ounces), but according to healthline, there’s a whole lot more to that story.

  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) currently recommends that men should drink at least 104 ounces of water per day — 13 8-ounce glasses.
  • They say women should drink at least 72 ounces (9 8-ounce glasses).

This is your overall fluid intake per day, by the way, including anything you eat or drink containing water in it, like fruits or vegetables. Coffee counts too, despite what you may have heard about it being dehydrating. But pure water is really the best, for many reasons.

Here’s the formula from the Mayo Clinic:

* Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2.
* Multiply that number by your age.
* Divide that sum by 28.3.
* Your total is how many ounces of water you should drink each day
(Divide by 8 for how many glasses.)

Meds or not, whenever you find yourself spinning your wheels and rushing around, take the time to go get a glass of water – and drink it before you return to whatever you were doing! That will serve as a pattern-interrupt as well as a source of hydration.

*EXERCISE: Did you know that when your hippocampus atrophies, your memory fades?
Do you realize how essential memory is to most of what we need to do to run our lives?

  • Were you aware that exercise is now believed to protect your hippocampus from what we once thought was “standard” age-related shrinkage?
  • You DO realize, don’t you, that short-term memory deficits are ALREADY part of the picture with executive functioning disorders and dysregulations?
  • ONE MORE THING: science has recently learned that, in mice at least, a period of rapid walking prompts the brain to produce neural stem cells in the hippocampus. Did you know that neural stem cells have the potential to be recruited anywhere in the brain they are needed?
  • More on this later – for NOW, get out and walk! Rapidly. Take a water bottle with you.

*SLEEP: Besides the fact that none of us are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we’re not well-rested, your brain does its neural housekeeping while you’re sleeping.

You can’t expect to do very well at much of anything if you don’t give your brain time to sweep up after you! Regularly.

(Jump into the Sleep Series at Sleep and Cognition for more on that one)

2. Structure is your FRIEND

TIME and FOLLOW-THROUGH are systems.

They don’t like to hang with chaos.
They will run away screaming.

Yet many of us struggling with one or more of the Executive Functions tend to fight structure as surely as a kid trying to wait up for Santa fights falling asleep. We think we prefer to swing fast and loose – but we really don’t. At least our brains don’t.


That don’t-fence-me-in feeling is probably an “old tape” recorded when our parents made us go to bed before we were sleepy or wake up when we were still sleepy, or do things in a specific order – their way.

Don’t throw out the structure baby with your parent’s bathwater!

Without structure, you can’t systematize.

Without systems, nothing can be put on “auto-pilot” — so everything you do debits cognitive bandwidth. Don’t squander it where you don’t need it.

Automate the “treadmill tasks — get as many of your regular and recurring activities on autopilot as you possibly can. Free up those brain cells to process your amazing creativity where it matters!!

A great way to begin to put that structure habit in place is by
structuring the manner in which you FEED YOUR HEAD.

3. NOTHING takes a minute

By the time you factor in transition time, even tasks that might realistically be expected to take a minute will take at least five to ten.

And that’s ONLY if everything runs like clockwork.

If you are reading this article, I’d like to suggest that you probably don’t have one of those clockwork kind of lives.

(Let’s not even CONSIDER what happens if (oops) when you get distracted!)

So don’t even think about polishing off one of those “minute” tasks BEFORE you move on to what you meant to do. Trust me on this one. You don’t have time.

Think and plan in thirty minute chunks, minimum (longer if you are someone who has a great deal of Trouble with Transitions).

  • If you beat the clock, then you can consider MAYBE slipping in something that occurred to you in the moment.
  • Even better – jot down a quick note so you can SCHEDULE time to take care of the cognitive intruder later.
  • THEN your brain can close the loop,” your amygdala will stop acting like it hears a fire-alarm, and you can get back on track with TODAY.

Questions for You:

If you’ve already tried any of the techniques suggested in this article so far:

  • Were you able to develop the habit of using them?
    How long did THAT take?
  • How did it go? Where were the glitches? Any stoppers?
  • Did you make any tweaks you can share?

If you haven’t:

  • What are you doing NOW – and where are the breakdowns?
  • What can you share that already works well enough?
  • If you had to use one of these techniques, which seems most likely to work for you? How come?

Ring in below, so we can learn from each other —
EVERYBODY has in-sights to share!

And stay tuned for the last two sections of this article, where I will share the final two of my Five System Basics. (articles post on Mondays and Fridays – follow for notification to increase your chances of coming back).

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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.

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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!"

78 Responses to EF Management Tips and Tricks

  1. Pingback: Weekly Inspirational Roundup (Volume 2) | When Women Inspire

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

  3. paulandruss says:

    Madelyn- 30 minute chunks is great advice. You are right nothing takes a minute and yet we often think that something reasonably easy does… and then beat our selves up when it doesn’t. If I only take one piece of advice away today it will be that. Thanks for the tips. Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are most welcome, Paul. Thanks for letting me know what spoke to you. Those “minute” tasks have been the biggest problem for more than a few of my clients thru the years. They can “minute” themselves into being as much as an hour late!

      And yet some of the “gurus” still say to DO it if it is going to take 2 minutes or less. (Yeah, right – and we fritter away a day and then wonder where the time went!)


  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    For those of you following Madelyn Griffith-Haynie’s series on better Executive Functioning of our brain.. here are some basics – I am very keen on feeding the brain and our master controller has been treated very badly in recent years with all the Executive Food Disorders created by Govermental meddling.. low fat diets in particular.. anyway head over to Madelyn and read her detailed stratagies for keeping it together.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dgkaye says:

    Really great series Madelyn. Besides all the learning factors, your delivery is always so engaging and entertaining. Now, I admit, I really need to get more zzzz’s for better housekeeping, but seriously it makes so much sense. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: EF Mangement Tips and Tricks – SEO

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

  8. Christy B says:

    Excellent – this is one heck of a series, Madelyn! Your part about food and its positive effects on the brain took me back to a therapy session I once had in which she was asking me about my eating.. I wasn’t eating much at that point.. She explained the relationship with the brain and I was like what?!!! Like I say, your post took me back to that session. Wow, flashback. When it’s unexpected like that I sometimes need a moment. But it also reminds me how far I’ve come and that I must take care with what I eat. Thank you for the reminders xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. First, you’re analogy about NT’s being the baton in the brain-communication relay race is very clever.

    Second, (and I’ve said the previously) I really enjoy the carefully structured and researched approach you take here in your wonderful blog Madelyn. Its particularly apt in this post as it serves to highlight the importance of integrating structure into our daily lives in order to process information and ease decision making.

    Third, your underlying motivation for sharing this series of posts is not lost on me. The time, energy, and compassion you’ve devoted to sharing a series designed to make OUR lives fuller and more inline with physiology.
    Thank you Madelyn!
    mgh added white space (double returns between paragraphs) to help with readability for those who struggle with longer strings of text; words unchanged

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh yes, structure is your friend, unless you are in your fifties and have always felt that it was your enemy. Then anyone who tries to introduce it into your life becomes an enemy as well.
    Love your principles, but I can almost physically feel your clients’ resistance. Your courage deserves the highest recognition!

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL – it does take persistence, especially with older clients, but the results are SO worth it (to them and to me).

      When any client finally gets on board the structure train I feel like Annie Sullivan must have felt when Helen Keller said Wa-wa. 🙂 NOW we move forward!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope you realize how much I admire your work with adult clients! Just curious: what is the success rate, what is the longevity /retention success rate, and how do you me both?

        Liked by 1 person

        • The success rate depends on the client’s willingness to change a few things to move forward, Dolly – and thank you so much for the endorsement. Coaching is not magic and I am not a wizard. 🙂 But it has been fairly high among my clients and many of my former students now work at the top of the field, using the techniques I developed and delivered.

          I measure success and longevity together. If they will commit to giving themselves six short months (and do their “homework”) their lives change in ways that are obvious to both of us. When they stay beyond that time frame (my requirement, although I don’t chase anybody who doesn’t keep their agreement), I have to assume that coaching is working well for them!

          A few have stayed for as long as 7-10 years (mostly coaches themselves) – many for a year or three – and it has not been unusual that they return for a quick hit when things get dicey or life changes considerably.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie provides more information to help us improve our Executive Functions as part of our mental health. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so grateful that you are following this article and that you reblogged this part, John. Thanks you so much.

      Many folks find that their functionality turns around completely when they pay attention to make sure #1 stays in place. I know what a difference it makes to my own – positive AND negative (when I let any of them slip).

      Liked by 1 person

      • John Fioravanti says:

        You’re welcome, Madelyn. I need to re-read it to make sure I understand. Thanks for the info and tips!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Focus on Feeding your Head (boosting brain-functioning). We’ve already talked about the sleep-part, but you’ll be amazed at how much difference keeping the other 3 of the 4 can make too.

          I’m honored to read that you find my articles worth rereading, John. I get through some of your longer ones (like my favorite Believe It or Nots) by taking them in chunks – still, I sometimes go back and reread a chunk to capture more of the details.


  12. Another great post Madelyn! So much good and important information to incorporate into our lives. We like that phrase, “how to make an “off the rack” outfit fit you perfectly.” which is key to so much and you help with the fitting. That’s a lot of water, we definitely need to increase our consumption. We laughed at the phrase, “nothing takes a minute.” This is a big one. We’re always telling ourselves, oh that’ll only take about 20 minutes and then 2 hours later when finishing it we laugh. So glad you are breaking this down into bite size chunks. Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks always for reading and taking the time to ring in. I’ll bet you have a TON of systems to make living in your travel van work for two people and a dog.

      I was thrilled to know that the coffee/dehydration myth had been disproven – best news in this article for ‘holics like me. 🙂 Coffee is my drug of choice – lol – and counting THAT I get a lot of liquid — especially in the summer when I blend it with a ton of ice (like a coffee-flavored shlushie), which doubles it volume and cools me off beautifully.

      It also changed my life to realize that it would almost always take 15 minutes to get out the door – longer if I’m taking Tink and we’ll be gone for several hours. I was only counting the actual walking thru the door part. Ha! Scheduling the PROCESS allowed me to stop rushing around – which always results in its take longer still. I don’t rush well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome but please know we so enjoy your in depth thought and research which goes in your post. Yes, through life we have learned so much about orderliness and organization without being obsessive/compulsive about it.

        Like one of your past post noted we as humans may think we are good at multi-tasking but are we really. For us, nope. Not if we want to do something well and provide the attention it or people should get. Coffee begins at 6 a.m. and doesn’t end till 6 p.m. and like you the ice makes a great slushy.

        We have really looked at time spent and are realizing that everything takes time and the questions are is that time being well spent.

        Awhile back we started looking at that whole phrase, “time spent”. Spent means gone. Which leads to the next question of what was the return on the investment in terms of spiritual, emotional and physical. We keep getting back to balance.

        I laugh looking back at time studies at work and always came up with the bottom line that we were doing 10 hours work in 8. Yet the big boss didn’t like it when I told him we needed more help. His pat answer was you need to help them prioritize their time, lol, lol.
        mgh added white space for readability for those who struggle with longer strings of text; words unchanged

        Liked by 1 person

  13. -Eugenia says:

    Reblogged this on BrewNSpew and commented:
    Some food for thought from Madelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kisses, hugs (and puppy kisses from Tink) for reblogging this part of my article, Eugenia. Soooo appreciated — says she, sipping on a big cup of coffee — chasing the cobwebs from my sleepy brain as I start another wonderful day, heading into the weekend. Hope your weekend is great as well. 🙂


  14. -Eugenia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Madelyn. I love this post and find it very useful. Structure-Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have so many ‘systems’ ingrained into my every day most people wouldn’t even be aware. How I make my way around the supermarket, often doing an isle twice so I can see what I need with my best eyesight. Cheers,H

    Liked by 1 person

    • NO DOUBT! After your “stroke that wasn’t” (your words) you had to be suddenly be very conscious about how you did everything, and I imagine you had to change practically everything.

      I am going to take your “twice down the aisle” idea myself – to see if that makes it easier for ME to see what I want too – especially in those grocery stores with all those distracting packages. Thanks for sharing that!


  16. Adele Marie says:

    I love these techniques, I think they will really help me. I am very interested in the feeding your brain part. I skip breakfast and at the moment am in the grip of anorexia again. but, I hope to start looking at it in a different way and feeding your brain might just do it. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was a breakfast skipper for most of my life too – mostly because I couldn’t get it together to feed myself until I had been awake for a few hours (probably why so many people turn to a quick bowl of cereal, which is not the best idea first thing in the morning).

      I try to keep hard-boiled eggs in the ‘fridge – already peeled and in a container with a lid to make it easy, but I’ve been known to slather a ton of peanut butter on a rice cake too – lol. AFTER my first cup of coffee, of course. I also leave a bit of protein from the night before I can grab – nuked OR cold. 🙂

      My heart goes out to your struggle with anorexia – I hope it will help you take great care of your precious body by thinking more of eating for brain-health.

      Onward and ever-upward. Thanks so much for putting it out there HERE.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I agree… every engine needs gas… and our body needs some food too ;o)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This is a very useful article, Madelyn. Your points about adequate sleep are very well noted and most of us don’t get enough of that. I also found your comments about structure very interesting. When you have a baby you very quickly learn the value of structure and routine as babies respond much better to strict routines than none.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Robbie. Great moms like you learn about the importance of structure for babies. Frustrated moms with fussier kids sometimes miss that part! YOU know that structure must be taught, even to (or especially to) infants – or everything is a factor of the mood of the moment.

      We’re on the same page about the importance of sleep, Robbie – for kids, of course, but for grown-ups as well.

      I keep bringing it up because it is sooooo important.


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