What is Executive Functioning?1,2,3
Executive functioning describes a set of higher-order mental skills that help you to get things done. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain that controls executive functioning skills. Deficits in executive functioning skills make it difficult to gather information and structure it for evaluation, as well as difficulty taking stock of your surroundings and changing your behavior in response. While some adults may have learned tricks or strategies to help them compensate, many continue to fail to meet their daily responsibilities and experience trouble at work and at home. Serious consequences of poor executive functioning skills in adults can be loss of a job for not meeting deadlines, lowered credit rating, or late tax filling penalties because they do not have their financials organized.
Executive functioning skills allow us to:
- Analyze a task
- Plan how to take on the task
- Organize the steps required to carry out the task
- Create timelines for completing the task
- Use flexibility to adjust for changes if needed to complete the task
- Complete a task in a timely fashion and/or meet a deadline
Signs there may be deficits in executive functioning skills:1,2
- Not being able to manage time well, difficulty meeting deadlines or goals and determining the amount of time that has passed or is necessary to complete a task
- Difficulty organizing and planning
- Trouble paying attention
- Trouble switching focus and shifting between activities
- Not being able to remember details
- Misplacing and losing possessions, paperwork, etc.
- Difficulty delaying response or withholding a response
- Difficulty prioritizing work or responsibilities
- Difficulty self-monitoring behavior, progress, and emotions
What causes trouble with Executive Functioning?1,2
Some people are born with weak executive function. People with ADHD, depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or learning disabilities often have executive functioning weaknesses. Difficulty with executive functioning has also been associated with adult Bipolar Disorder and OCD. Experiencing a brain injury, suffering a stroke, or sustaining damage from Alzheimer’s can also cause a loss of executive functioning.
What can be done to improve executive functioning skills?2
There is no medication to eliminate difficulty with executive functioning, though some evidence has been found that stimulant medications may be of benefit for some aspects of executive dysfunction. A therapist or coach can help you to improve time management, better manage space and keep things from getting lost, and improve work habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a client to self-monitor thoughts and behavior, and social skills training can help to create appropriate responses in social situations.