The Brain Bully
If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. – David Allen
Conversations among parents and educators often center on executive functioning issues and children who are smart, talented, have great ideas and skills, yet they don’t turn in homework or complete projects on time. As adults, we take these same challenges with us into the workplace. Too often, we lack focus, feel distracted, overwhelmed, bored, and are unable to meet deadlines.
Effective strategies for planning, prioritizing, time management, maintaining focus, organizing skills, and other related skills are necessary for daily productivity and optimal results. When we begin to feel overwhelmed and frustrated after repeated attempts to manage our time, increase personal motivation to accomplish goals and successfully meet deadlines it may be time to take a close look at executive functioning.
What is executive functioning?
It is the CEO of the brain. Executive functions help people use information and experiences from the past to solve current problems. These mental skills are controlled by an area of the brain called the frontal lobe and help us get things done by taking stock of personal surroundings, monitoring behavior, gathering information and structuring it for evaluation.
What are executive functioning issues?
When executive functioning isn’t working as it should, everyday tasks may be challenging and can affect our ability to:
- Make plans and manage schedules
- Switch focus
- Complete work on time
- Remember details
- Apply previously learned information to solve problems
- Analyze ideas
What skills are affected by executive functioning issues?
Self-monitoring and efficiency is the ability to keep track of daily tasks and evaluate personal performance. Individuals who have trouble with self-monitoring lack self-awareness and can’t identify strategies that are working. They may also find it difficult to identify new strategies to implement when strategies aren’t working.
Impulse and emotion control manages personal feelings and impulses that are critical in all workplace environments. It is important to stop and think before acting and to control negative impulses. Managing feelings by focusing on the end result or goal, accepting negative feedback, and adapting to change enhance teamwork balance.
Task initiation helps us start a project and set a plan into action. Employees are paid to be responsible and dependable. Individuals who struggle with this skill lack the ability to plan for a task and initiate a starting point. This may be seen as procrastinating, but is often prompted by feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about a plan.
Planning and prioritizing is the ability to formulate the necessary steps to reach a goal and decide the order of importance. Individuals with weak planning and prioritizing skills struggle with starting a project and breaking tasks into step-by-step, manageable chunks.
Organization is one of the most important transferable job skills a worker can possess and it’s necessary in all areas of life. People who lack organizational skills feel increased stress because they are constantly misplacing papers and important information. They find it difficult to get organized and to stay organized even when there are negative consequences to being disorganized. They may be seen by colleagues as inattentive and uninterested.
Flexibility and Adaptability is rolling with the punches and identifying a new approach when a plan fails. Work environments aren’t always predictable and responsibilities change. Individuals who are inflexible and think in concrete ways may find it challenging to change course or identify optimal solutions.
Here are five ideas to increase personal productivity and minimize stress due to executive functioning issues:
1. Build flexible thinking – Flexible thinking means finding more than one way to do something. Ask yourself, “Am I being flexible or inflexible?” See yourself as flexible and able to compromise. Be an active listener and open-minded to other people’s ideas and suggestions. Being a flexible thinker will give you the tools to see beyond confined boundaries.
2. Set intermediate deadlines for projects – When faced with a large project break the workload down into manageable pieces so that the project doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
3. Customize your schedule – Begin by chunking your to-do list and daily tasks to reflect your choices, routine, and plans. This schedule should include chores, appointments, and time for leisure/recreation activities.
4. Identify high-peak performance time – Identify time in your day when you’re at your optimum. This is the time you feel most awake, energetic and focused. Use this time slot as your peak performance time, and reserve it for the high priority, time-consuming, complex tasks.
5. Stop multitasking – Effective multitasking is a myth and so is the idea that we can concentrate on several things at one time. It’s important to recognize your mind’s limited capacity for attention and focus. Performance deteriorates and frustration occurs when you attempt to focus on several tasks at one time.
Pay attention to what has your attention. The more you know about the challenges, the better you’ll be at building executive functioning skills to manage the difficulties and stop the “bully in your brain.”