Executive Function Skills 101
Updated: Mar 21
“Where are my KEYS?” you scream-whisper as you search frantically through the piles in your kitchen. If you lived alone, this would NOT be happening. Nobody would be there to mess up your life!
You are late, low on gas, and hiding a stained shirt under a sloppy sweater because you forgot to do laundry.
Sound familiar? If so, you already know a little about Executive Functioning Skills, and just how much they impact your life.
Executive Function Skills Are Literally Running Your Life
Most people are familiar with Executive Function Skills (EFS), regardless of what they call them. These skills, considered to be the air traffic control center of the brain, help people to be successful by planning, focusing attention, juggling multiple tasks, and so on.
Many parents, educators and child development experts are talking about Executive Function Skills these days. Why? Because the mastery of these skills can have a great influence over success in life. In fact, research shows that EFS are a bigger indicator of success than IQ.
How can simply planning ahead or focusing your attention have such a broad impact? Today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, mechanics, electricians, political leaders, law enforcement officers, etc. We want these individuals to be performing at their best!
What Are the Executive Function Skills?
So how do we harness the power of these skills and make positive changes? The first step is knowing each skill. Depending on what you read, there are seven to eleven Executive Function Skills. Metacognition - thinking about thinking - is the king of them all (more about that later). Here are the skills:
Planning - developing a well-thought-out strategy prior to beginning a task - whether it’s planning a party or strategizing a term paper
Time Management - using time wisely to complete obligations, including accurately estimating how long tasks will take
Working Memory - keeping information in our heads while we use it - useful in solving multi-step math problems, for example
Self-control - stopping and thinking in order to make a more positive choice in the moment - examples include refraining from shouting out in class, not saying the rude comment you’re thinking, and maybe even walking away from that brownie
Perseverance - working through challenges, roadblocks and obstacles that come up along the way, from boring assignments to cleaning your room
Organization - keeping neat and orderly systems in place - think folders, calendars, and to-do lists
Task Initiation - starting right away, even when you don’t want to (Hey! Who’s ready to clean out the garage?!
Attention - focusing on a person or task for a period of time, and refocusing when needed - remember that boring lecture in AP History? Yeah - THAT’S attention.
Flexibility - effectively coping with change - maybe you ordered a corn dog for lunch, but when lunchtime rolls around, the only choice left is spaghetti - yikes!
When any single EFS is not working well, all aspects of life are impacted. But the good news is that we can alter and improve the brain! Because of neuroplasticity, the brain has the capacity for change even into old age!
Which Executive Function Skill is a challenge for your students? How about you?