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Breaking Down Tasks: Strategies for Executive Dysfunction

If you struggle with executive dysfunction, one of the strategies you’ve probably heard is that breaking down tasks can help. But what if you don’t know how to break tasks down? Many people, especially those who are neurodiverse, find it challenging to break down tasks into manageable steps and tackle them one by one.

In this article, we'll explore different strategies for breaking down tasks, specifically tailored for neurodiverse people. I’ll cover how to break tasks down into smaller steps and help you collect a toolbox of strategies to draw upon when you need to stay productive and focused.

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Why Breaking Down Tasks Can be Challenging

It's not uncommon for neurodivergent people to struggle with breaking down tasks into manageable steps. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as difficulty with executive functioning, sensory processing issues, or challenges with attention and focus.

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Let's take a closer look at some of the common challenges neurodiverse individuals may face when trying to break down tasks:

Difficulty with Executive Functioning:

Executive functioning refers to the cognitive processes that are responsible for planning, organizing, initiating, and monitoring behaviors. If a person struggles with their ability to plan, they will most likely also struggle with the ability to look at the big picture and consider all the step involved to make a roadmap.

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Sensory Processing Issues:

Some neurodivergent people may have sensory processing issues that make it hard to focus on tasks or break them down into manageable steps. If a person is distracted by sights or sounds, they won’t be able to focus on the task at hand to be able to break it down.

Challenges with Attention and Focus:

Neurodiverse people may also struggle with attention and focus, which can make it hard to stay on task and break down larger tasks into smaller steps. By definition, people with ADHD struggle with attention. In order to be able to break down a task, a person needs to be able to focus on the entire task to be able to figure out the steps involved.


For people who struggle with perfectionism, they are so focused on doing things perfectly that they have a hard time seeing the steps that make up a task. They tend to think only about the finished product, not how to get there.


Anxiety can also make it challenging for neurodiverse individuals to break down tasks. When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it can be hard to focus on the individual steps needed to complete a task, making it difficult to break it down into manageable pieces.

Processing Speed:

Finally, for people who struggle with processing speed, figuring out how to break down tasks into smaller steps quickly is the problem. They might need more time to develop a list of steps, but they might not feel like they can take that time.

By understanding these challenges, we can begin to explore strategies that can help neurodiverse individuals overcome them and become more productive and successful.

Breaking Down Tasks: Strategies for Executive Dysfunction - woman holding a pencil, looking at her laptop. Above her head are some lightbulbs and To Do List; on right side, the numbers 1, 2,3

Strategies for Breaking Down Tasks

When learning strategies to help you break down tasks, it’s important to look for a variety of methods. You need to experiment and try different strategies to find the ones that will work best for you.

Start with the end goal in mind:

Before breaking down a task, it can be helpful to start with the end goal in mind. This means asking yourself, “What do I want to achieve by completing this task?” Once you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, you can work backward and break down the task into manageable steps.

If you struggle with perfectionism, you might be overly focused on the end goal, so be wary of that. In order to figure out the steps to complete a task, you need a clear picture of what the end goal is.

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Use visual aids:

Visual aids can be helpful tools because they allow you to explore possibilities creatively. This could include creating a mind map, flowchart, or checklist to visually organize the steps needed to complete a task. For some people, seeing a visual representation of the steps needed makes more sense than a written list.

Break tasks down by context:

You can break down tasks by context, which means grouping similar tasks together based on where or when they need to be done. For example, you might group all of your phone calls together, or all of your email responses. Batching is an excellent way to break tasks down. This can help you stay focused and avoid switching between different types of tasks too frequently.

Utilize technology:

There are many apps and tools available that can help you break down tasks into manageable steps. Trello is a project management tool that allows you to create cards for each task and move them through different stages as you complete them. Other apps like Todoist and allow you to create to-do lists and break tasks down into subtasks. allows you to put in a task and it will give you a to-do list broken into smaller steps.

The key to using technology is to not try all of the apps and programs at once. Choose one or two to try and once you give them a chance, decide if they suit you. If not, move onto another tool.

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Involve others:

Sometimes it can be helpful to involve others in breaking down tasks, especially for larger projects. This can include brainstorming with colleagues, delegating tasks to others, or working with a coach or mentor to create a plan of action. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. Working with others not only gives you the help you need on this particular task, but it also enables you to learn how others approach tasks like this.

By understanding why breaking down tasks can be challenging for neurodivergent people and utilizing effective strategies, you can become more efficient and productive in completing tasks.

It's important to remember that different strategies may work better for different people depending on their unique needs and conditions. By experimenting with different strategies and finding the ones that work best for you, you can become more successful in completing tasks. Remember to be patient with yourself and celebrate small wins along the way. With practice and persistence, breaking down tasks can become a natural part of your routine, helping you achieve your goals and live a more fulfilling life.

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