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Understanding Executive Functioning

The term "executive functioning" relates to a cluster of functions which are critical to our brain's capacity to:

  • Plan Tasks

  • Organise Tasks

  • Prioritise Tasks

  • Initiate Tasks

  • Complete Tasks

They also relate to our capability to 

  • Regulate our Emotions

  • Manage and Sustain our Effort and Motivation

Both of which are critical to our productivity and effectiveness in selecting actions and seeing them through to their conclusion.

The Importance of Executive Functioning

Collectively our Executive Functions are critical to driving and sustaining Goal Orientated Behaviour, particularly in relation to our pursuit of medium to long term goals, where there is no immediate gratification (or consequence) to motivate us to act.

They are central to our Performance, Productivity and Perseverance in the Pursuit of Goals.


  • Working out what needs to be done?

  • Working out the steps needed to do it?

  • Working out the resources needed to do it?

  • Learning the skills needed to do it?

  • Recalling and applying the skills needed to do it?


  • Working out the order in which to do things?

  • Managing the time available in which to do things?

  • Establishing the relative urgency of component tasks.

  • Sustaining attention and focus on the task in hand (managing distractions and competing interests).


  • Making adjustments to stay on track and remain aligned to the overall Goal.

  • Sustaining momentum to see the Goal through to completion.

  • Responding positively to setbacks, frustrations and obstacles.

  • Retaining faith in our capacity and capability to complete the Goal.

Deficits in Executive Functioning

Many people struggle with specific areas of Executive Functioning particularly when faced with:

  • Difficult or Seemingly Overwhelming Goals.

  • Too Many Conflicting Responsibilities

  • Sustained periods of Stress

  • New Challenges or enforced Changes which take them outside of their "comfort zone"

Additionally some people are born with weaker executive functioning skills than others.

Struggles with "executive functioning" are an integral component of, or highly implicated in, a range of neurological  and developmental conditions including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • Dyslexia

  • Dyspraxia

  • Autism

They are also evident in, or exacerbated in their severity by, mood disorders including:

  • Depression

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Anxiety Disorders

Optimising Executive Functioning Skills


Working with both the practical and emotional aspects of "executive functioning" and understanding how they are intrinsically interlinked is critical to Optimising both Performance and Productivity.

Practical  "Executive Functioning" challenges in areas such as Time Management, Decision Making, Planning and Attention can detrimentally impact our capacity to learn new skills and fulfil our Personal, Educational and Professional responsibilities.

However the resultant Stress and heightened Anxiety we experience in response to these functional challenges  further diminishes our Productivity and Performance which in turn triggers ever greater levels of Stress.

Breaking this cycle involves developing Practical Skills and Techniques in conjunction with learning to Regulate our Emotions to improve our mental resilience and ability to manage stress, both of which are critical to our capacity to perform at our peak.

The Core Skills Associated with Executive Functioning

Task Initiation

The ability to recognise when it is time to make a start on something and to begin without procrastinating.

Planning and Prioritisation

The ability to create steps to reach a goal and to make decisions about the relative importance and urgency of each step.


The ability to create and maintain systems and structures to keep track of information or materials.

Time Management

The ability to use time productively and smartly to maximise output in relation to effort.

Working Memory

The ability to hold information in mind and use, manipulate and link it to complete a task.

Sustaining Attention

The ability to direct and maintain attention to fully concentrate on the task in hand.

Goal Directed Persistence

The ability to see a goal through to completion whilst managing distractions and competing interests.

Shifting Focus / Flexibility

The ability to transition seamlessly and efficiently from one task to another.

Response Inhibition

The ability to pause to consider available courses of action rather than acting impulsively.

Emotional Control

The ability to manage feeling and emotions and use them constructively to support the pursuit of goals.

Meta Cognition

The ability to understand our own thought processes and how they are influencing our choices, actions, decisions and behaviour.

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