Executive Function?

According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child:

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

That has always been a challenge for me. But it seems to get worse as I age. One of the ways that I try to compensate is to use an organizer and to-do lists. I have had those in some form for at least the past decade. Whether it was post-it notes on the fridge or these little notebooks that I kept, one for each month, or an actual journal/calendar, I needed something to keep me on track. To keep me from forgetting appointments or tasks.

About fifteen years ago, I tried the fancy one that was connected to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. But it was so complex that within a few months, I gave up. For several years, as a single parent on benefits, I did not have the means to buy fancy ones. That is when I used those post-it notes or little notebooks. I could get a pack of three at Poundland. So for less than a fiver, I had a whole year’s worth. They were just big enough to have one page for each day.

Last year, since money was no longer an issue, I thought I would try those fancy things again. I was still on Facebook back then and it kept sending me adverts for them. I tried three different kinds in three months. Even one that had coloring pages. All of them too complicated to maintain.

That is the thing: with executive dysfunction, the information needs to be clear.

KISS – Keep it simple, stupid!

In the end, I went back to creating my own. I used elements from those fancy ones, like having annual and monthly goals as well as weekly objectives. But since it was a ring-binder using lined notebook paper, the writing could be bigger and cleaner. And I could organize it in a way that fits my life and needs.

I even decorated the outside of it. But since it is kept open on the table almost all day long, you hardly ever see the pretty stuff. It did though personalize it. Give me a sense of ownership. And the cost was less than a tenner.

  • 1 – 4-inch ring binder
  • 1 – package of section dividers
  • Month-at-a-glance calendar pages printed from the internet
  • 2-3 – packages of lined notebook paper from Poundland
  • Stickers
  • Pretty pens

That’s all it took…to save my life. Or at least keep it on track.

It is December now. That notebook is full. And I have already begun to prepare next year’s.

I am trying to improve it a bit this year. I am playing around with designing the monthly, weekly, and daily pages rather than using that lined notebook paper. But I am missing those lines. Maybe to will add some in or maybe I’ll go back to just using the notebook paper. That is the joy of making your own: you get to decide. You get to do what works for you.

The thing is that I have sometimes gone a week or more without using my binder. In fact, the months of July and August are empty this year. I know that I was really busy taking PanKwake places then. The problem is that without my organizer things tend to fall apart in my life and our @HomeCrazzyHome. Which is why I always come back to it.

When you are neurodivergent and have executive dysfunction issues, it is especially important to use tools like an organizer, adaptive technology of sorts. I use other ones as well. We have Amazon Echos in several rooms. I set reminders on those for tasks such as bringing in the milk, ironing Alan’s pants, and the timer function keeps me from burning PanKwake’s cookies.

Even PanKwake with her severe dyslexia uses a visual schedule. Otherwise, she drives me crazzy asking, ‘Mommy, are we doing anything today?’ Every hour it seems, as her memory is worse than mine.

Visual Schedule Feature

Heck, even Alan, who is almost neurotypical keeps a list of things to do, sometimes on his computer and sometimes written on a scrap of paper.

That is the thing – these organizers are created and marketed for neurotypicals. Obviously, they can benefit anyone. But for the neurodivergent, they are more than just a nice thing to have. They are essential adaptive technologies.

But, as I have been hammering home, they need to be ones that work for YOU! Just because I love my ring-binder does not mean it will work for you. Maybe a tech option will work better for you. There are loads of those for iPads, phones, and computers. Many such as Google calendar are free and work across platforms. They just don’t work well for me because half the time I don’t know where my phone is and the other half the battery is dead.

I admit I am probably not using Echo as effectively as I could for some things. She might be a good addition to my notebook because she can voice reminders in a way that it cannot. I should really try to learn more of her functions this year. Because as I said, at least with me, these things get worse as I age.

I do love my Fitbit. It automates all the data collection for exercise and diet. And I really love its graphs and charts. Both the daily and weekly reports.

The challenge is always not wasting money. Finding the technologies that work for you without spending loads of money on things that don’t work.

My thoughts are…

  • Begin low tech such as my ring-binder and PanKwake’s visual schedule.
  • Add-on free apps such as Google calendars.
  • Look for free trials of the more expensive stuff.
  • Then talk to neurodivergent friends about what works for them, perhaps even ‘borrow’ it if that is possible.
  • Finally, invest in quality products that work for you. No use buying cheap ones that will break.

Executive dysfunction is, of course, not strictly a neurodivergent thing. Some neurotypicals are disorganized. And honestly, in the fast-paced world in which we live, it is challenging to keep track of everything you are supposed to be doing, where you are supposed to be, and why.

But, for some of us, these tools are absolutely essential to our quality of life. As I remember it, mine went down the drain by August. Which is why I went back to my organizer in September.

Do you have any executive function tools that you have found especially helpful? Please share them with us in the comments.

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