Executive Functioning

What is Executive Functioning?

“Executive Functioning” has become a hot topic in recent years, but what does it actually mean? Unfortunately, defining this complicated skill set is easier said than done, primarily because it is one of the most complicated things our brain does.

First, when we talk about executive functioning, we are referring to a set of skills, not just one thing.  These skills, or “functions,” work together to help us be efficient learners, thinkers, and actors.  Emphasis on efficient. They allow us to solve problems, think ahead, deal with road bumps, process information and emotions, and manage our daily lives.

Second, it is important to note that executive functioning is a slow to develop skill. These processes take place in the frontal lobe of our brain which is not fully developed until somewhere between ages 20 and 30. Thus, most children struggle at one time or another with some of these skills since
executive functioning develops well into early adulthood.

The best way to understand how these skills work together, is to discuss them individually. We will break these down into six categories of executive functions, each of which play a role in creating a cohesive, organized approach to life.

  • Planning and Time Management
    • The ability to break down large tasks into smaller steps
    • Understanding what will be required to get something done, both in terms of time and materials
    • Utilizing time appropriately
    • Thinking long term and realistically about how things will get done
  • Organization
    • Being able to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials
    • Creating structure out of abstract concepts
    • Using categories and templates to file items or information away in a meaningful way
  • Self-Control and Regulation
    • Managing feelings and actions by thinking about the goals and consequences
    • Knowing when and how to calm down or ramp up
    • Understanding the signs of different feelings and being able to control them
  • Goal Setting and Problem Solving
    • Knowing what needs to get done
    • Having a realistic sense of what is possible given certain constraints
    • Thinking of multiple paths to accomplish a goal and rerouting when roadblocks are reached
  • Managing Attention
    • Knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore
    • Managing distractions
    • Maintaining focus
  • Working Memory and Processing Speed
    • Working memory = the ability to hold information in mind and use it to complete a task
    • Processing speed = how quickly the brain is able to process information

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