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8 Tips to Build Executive Functioning Skills

In recent years, there has been an emphasis on helping students build executive functioning skills. However, I’ve met many people who have been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Often, especially in women, the diagnosis creates a lightbulb moment of “Ah, that explains why I am the way I am.” However, the diagnosis alone doesn’t help them build their executive functioning skills.

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you often feel scattered or disorganized. You might find it difficult to stay focused or plan for the long term. Many mental health issues play role in the struggle with executive functioning. Executive functioning skills are those abilities that help us think things through, plan ahead, manage our time effectively and tackle other cognitive challenges. These skills play an important role in how well we perform at school, in the workplace, and beyond – whether that’s in our personal life or as a professional.

silhouette of a woman with her brain showing, a lightbulb with a brain, and a person looking at signs pointing in different directions - build executive function skills

What are executive functioning skills?

Simply put, executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that are essential for everyday life, as well as for achieving success in both professional and academic settings. It encompasses a range of cognitive abilities, from organizing thoughts to staying focused, to regulating emotions and problem-solving. Research has shown that by improving these skills, individuals can improve their overall well-being and performance at work or school.

In this blog post, I’ll explore some strategies for building executive function skills. We will discuss how to create an environment conducive to learning, various activities that promote executive function, and the importance of practice in developing these skills. By taking the time to focus on executive functioning, individuals can make meaningful changes in their lives that will benefit them in the long run.

When someone is diagnosed as an adult, they suddenly understand why they’ve been struggling, but they don’t know what to do about it or how to make changes. They don’t even know where to start.

How do you build executive functioning skills?

In order to build your executive functioning skills, you will need to put in the effort to actively improve on them. This may involve some lifestyle changes as well as some dedication to certain types of activities. Your ability to build your executive functioning skills will be unique to you, so it is important to know what will work best for you.

8 tips to build executive functioning skills

Here are some general tips to get you started:

Set goals

Set clear goals related to your executive functioning skills. As with any other skill-building effort, it is important that your executive functioning skills have a clear and defined goal. The thing is, you can’t do all the things all at once. You’ll just get more overwhelmed and then give up.

Know what your strengths and weakness are. You need to consider which executive functioning skills are having the greatest impact on your life right now and focus on those.


Prioritizing tasks is an essential skill. It requires foresight, planning, and the ability to weigh the importance of different tasks. When prioritizing tasks, start by making a list of everything that needs to be accomplished. Then, assess each task based on its urgency, importance, and the amount of time it will take to complete.

Once the tasks are ordered, focus on one task at a time and work through them in the order they were assigned. This will help ensure that the most important tasks are completed first and will help you manage your workload more efficiently. By prioritizing tasks, you can ensure that each task is completed in a timely and effective manner.

Break down tasks

Breaking tasks into smaller parts is a highly effective way to manage the workload of a project or job. This method allows for better organization of tasks and helps to improve productivity. By breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable components, it is easier to focus on each step of the process. This also eliminates the feeling of being overwhelmed by a large, unwieldy task list.

Furthermore, by breaking tasks into smaller parts, it is easier to identify and address any potential problem areas or challenges that may arise during the course of the project. This method of project management is especially beneficial when dealing with complex or long-term tasks.

Use a planner system to organize

Easier said than done, right? If this was something you could just do, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Being organized is a key component to building your executive functioning skills. It is the best way to be prepared for whatever comes your way, as well as to maximize the things you’ve already got planned. Organization starts with having a plan and knowing what you have to do.

For some people, this means using a planner or an online app for tracking their activities. For others, a simple to-do list is enough. Planning is a key component for removing some of the chaos from your life. A calendar system can help organize tasks, keep track of important deadlines, and ensure that you stay on top of your work. It can also be used to schedule regular check-ins, plan meetings, or even set reminders for yourself.

Manage your time

Time management is another important part of executive functioning skills. This goes hand in hand with planning. Start with creating a schedule. The problem many people with ADHD have with schedules is that they don’t have a real concept of time. This is sometimes referred to as time blindness.

If you routinely show up late for activities or think you take 5 minutes to do something, only to find it actually took 45 minutes, you probably think schedules can’t work for you. You need to be able to practice and learn how long things actually take. Allow extra cushion room for activities.

Learn how to say no. Being able to say no is another important part of managing your time. It is important for you to know when to walk away from something, so you can better prioritize your time.

time timer

Develop routines

Developing routines can have a significant impact on our lives, both personally and professionally. Establishing a routine can help us become more organized, productive, and successful. It can also help us stay focused on our goals and prioritize tasks in order to more efficiently manage our time and resources.

When forming a routine, it is important to consider the areas that need the most focus and prioritize them accordingly. Once a routine is established, it can be modified to meet our changing needs and goals. Additionally, it is important to be flexible in our approach and be open to making necessary adjustments to our schedule. Taking the time to establish a consistent routine can help us stay focused and achieve our desired outcomes.


Practicing self-monitoring is an important part of creating new executive function routines. Regularly assessing and tracking your behaviors, feelings and physical health can help you develop better habits and create a more balanced lifestyle. Self-monitoring allows you to identify areas that need improvement, track progress and make changes when necessary.

By understanding what drives your decisions and behaviors, you can better plan and manage your life to achieve your goals. Additionally, self-monitoring can help you develop deeper self-awareness and the ability to make healthier choices.

Take breaks to refocus and recharge

Taking breaks throughout the day can be incredibly beneficial for productivity and mental clarity. Breaks can help to refocus and recharge, allowing for improved concentration and creativity. Allowing yourself a few moments to step away from your work can help to clear your head, reduce stress, and help you come back to your task with a fresh perspective.

Breaks should be used to do something that can relax you and refresh your mind, such as taking a walk, reading a book, or simply closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths. In addition to being beneficial to your mental health and productivity, taking breaks also reduces the risk of burnout.

When you’re building and improving your skills, it’s hard. Taking a break will help prevent overwhelm.

Additional Tips for Staying on Track

  • Stay physically active: Physical activity can greatly help to boost brain health and function. It can also help to improve self-confidence. This is important to keep in mind as you build your executive functioning skills as it will be easier to stay motivated if you feel good about yourself. Physical activity often helps burn off excess energy for those with ADHD and can help ease anxiety.
  • Be open to therapy: While building your executive functioning skills, it is important to be open to therapy. Executive dysfunction almost always goes hand in hand with other mental health issues. Most people need to address those issues to help with their executive function skills. This may include coaching, group therapy, or individual therapy. This can help you to learn the skills you need to build upon your executive functioning skills.
  • Be social: Being social can also help build your executive functioning skills. This can help you to learn new skills, build relationships and gain support. Being social can also help you to stay positive as you progress on your journey.

Successfully building your executive functioning skills can help you to excel in all aspects of your life. It can help you to better manage your time, stay organized and focused, and be more productive. It is an important skill that everyone can benefit from having. If you find that you lack certain executive functioning skills, it is important to know that they can be improved upon.

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