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Executive Functioning: Essential Skills for Task Mastery and Success

Ever heard the phrase ‘Executive Functioning’ and wondered what it is?

So what is it? These are the skills needed to complete tasks and get things done. These skills include:

  • Inhibiting our responses and controlling emotions.

  • Working memory.

  • Holding attention and goal-directed persistence. 

  • Starting tasks and time management.

  • Planning, organizing, and prioritising.

  • Flexibility and thinking about our thinking.

Executive functioning includes what we think as well as what we do. We decide on a goal, think about what we need to reach this goal and then change our behaviour to reach it. We need executive functioning skills to manage new challenges.

How do we develop Executive Functioning?

As our brain grows as a child, we develop some of these skills naturally. Response inhibition is learned first. In later years this skill helps us to wait our turn, follow rules and get along with others.

Working memory helps us to learn from past experiences and solve new problems. Maintaining attention helps us to achieve our goals, in spite of distractibility and boredom. Both skills are important for learning.

Being able to plan, organise and start tasks is essential if we want to reach our goals. We can learn these skills through practice and experience. We can also use a range of resources to help us with these planning and organising tasks. Good organisational skills can save us time, help us to be efficient and reduce anxiety.

Managing time well, helps us to fit things into our busy lives, complete daily and work tasks within time limits and understand how long things will take. This is a higher-level executive skill. 

Finally, being flexible and being able to reflect on how we think and do things, helps us to adjust our approach to a task, depending on the context. It helps us to evaluate how we are doing and learn from our mistakes. It helps us to explore and develop a range of problem-solving approaches, so that we can respond to life’s challenges and achieve the things we want to.

Useful Websites and Resources:

Compiled by TCT's Educational Psychologist, Karen Preston (M.Ed. Psych.), AEP, and HCPC Reg.. You can find more details about Karen's training and experience using the link below.

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