I am about as neurotypical as they come. My husband, my son, and almost everyone else in my life has ADHD. I call myself ADHD-adjacent. I watch my neurospicy loved ones struggle with executive dysfunction, and see how disruptive it can be. As someone in possession of a neurotypical brain, who doesn’t struggle with this kind of dysfunction, I’d like to share 10 simple and effective executive function strategies that can make life a bit easier.
1. Prioritize tasks
Identify the most important tasks and complete them first. This helps to reduce the number of decisions you need to make throughout the day. I prioritize using the lowest hanging fruit method, where I start with the easiest things on my list, and then work toward the hardest. The easy things get done quickly, and I can cross them off my list, which makes me feel motivated to keep going.
2. Set goals
Establish clear, achievable goals for yourself. This helps to provide structure and direction to your day, reducing the need for frequent decision making. I like having macro-goals and micro-goals. Macro-goals are big goals, like organizing the kitchen cabinets. Those goals can be overwhelming, so it’s good to have micro, or small, goals, such as organizing the pots and pans. That way, even if I don’t complete my entire macro-goal in one day, I can celebrate successfully completing a micro-goal.
3. Break tasks down into smaller steps
A big component of executive function is breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This helps to reduce the cognitive load and make the task less overwhelming. When I am cleaning my kitchen, for example, I start with one corner of the room and tell myself, “my only job right now is to clean the things in my immediate line of sight. I only leave that spot if it’s to put away something that belongs somewhere else. Then, once I’m done with that spot, I move about a foot to the right or left and do the same thing.
4. Use checklists
Create checklists to help you remember what needs to be done. This reduces the need to rely on working memory to keep track of tasks. Moreover, who doesn’t love getting to cross things off the list?!
5. Establish routines
Create a consistent routine for your day, including regular times for meals, exercise, and breaks. This helps to reduce the need for decision-making and conserves executive function. As a parent, I struggle with this one. It’s hard to keep with routines when the life of children is naturally chaotic. But I do the best I can.
6. Minimize distractions
Limit potential distractions by turning off notifications, closing unnecessary tabs on your computer, or working in a quiet environment. I like to use a Pomodoro timer to help with this. You can download any of them from the App Store. It breaks down your time into 25 minute work periods and 5-minute rest periods. During the 25-minute work period, I activate Do Not Disturb on my phone so that texts, calls, and app notifications do not come through. (If you’re good with Shortcuts on your phone, you can set up Do Not Disturb to come on every time you use the Pomodoro app, and turn off when the app is closed).
7. Delegate tasks
Delegate tasks to others when possible. This frees up cognitive resources for higher-level decision making. I don’t have many people in my life to delegate responsibilities to, but I do use apps and online services to help me with some of my daily tasks. For example, since Kroger provides free pick up, I order all of my weekly groceries online. This takes one task off my plate and leaves me more time to get other things done.
8. Use external memory aids
Use external memory aids, such as a planner, calendar, or smartphone app, to help you remember important information and deadlines. I’ve been using the NoteCircle app for my daily planning and I really enjoy it! Notion is another great one, but it has a strong learning curve. NoteCircle is an app that you can download and start using right away.
9. Simplify your environment
Simplify your environment by reducing clutter and organizing your space. This reduces the cognitive load required to navigate your surroundings. This is a massive one for me. Although I don’t have ADHD, I do have sensory processing disorder (which can sometimes present a lot like ADHD when I’m in a triggering environment). I’ve found that I must have a clean environment to work in if I’m going to focus. So, since I work from home and mainly from my kitchen, I plan to clean my kitchen every morning before I start working.
10. Practice self-care
Prioritize self-care activities, such as exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep. This helps to reduce stress and maintain optimal executive function. I know this one sounds obvious, but a lot of us are neglecting ourselves and not even realizing it. A well-rested, well-fed, and healthy body can help your mind stay organized and efficient.
Using these simple strategies can be a big difference for your executive function. Give them a try and see if things start to improve!