What Adults Ask Us About Their Challenges
In our 13 years of coaching clients and presenting to audiences across the country, we hear from many adults who ask us about their own Executive Function struggles. We've included three questions that we commonly hear and some answers below to help you learn more about our philosophy.
Why am I so overwhelmed?
While adults tend to have better self-management skills than children, they have greater demands in their daily lives to meet as well. Adults often have to manage multiple schedules besides their own if they have children and/or a spouse. At work, adults are frequently faced with competing priorities and short timelines for projects, combined with substantial expectations for productivity. At home, there are ongoing needs for maintenance, cleaning, and purchasing household necessities. Add to this other circumstances, such as caring for an ill child or relative, and soon it can feel as if there is no downtime in adult life. It's not surprising that many adults feel overwhelmed and seek out strategies to help them successfully meet their many demands.
Research shows that Executive Function skills tend to peak between the ages of 20 and 29. But these skills need conscious and consistent work to be improved and maintained. It is common to discover areas where an Executive Functioning boost could be tremendously helpful to an overwhelmed adult. The good news is: just as with physical fitness and exercise, working on these skills can make for a happier, healthier life.
Download our colorful infographic describing 5 symptoms of Executive Function challenges in adults:
How can I manage my time better?
First of all, make sure you are consistently using a calendar system and get your family used to using the same system together. If you want to go low-tech, that can just be a calendar hung in a place in the home where everyone can see it and add appointments to it. But if you’re more tech-minded, try having everyone in the family set up their own Google Calendar, and then share that calendar with other members of the family. (You might have to do this for young kids, but once they’re old enough, it’s a great way to get them practicing planning and time management skills.) The benefit of Google Calendar (or other online calendar options) is that you can use a smartphone app to update the calendar as appointments are made. In other words, other members of the family can see those updates in real time. It might take some work to build the habit at first, but the reward is fewer missed appointments and fewer cancellation calls.
Our infographic describes 8 apps adults can use throughout the day to help them manage time, stay focused and organized, and be productive.
How can I stop procrastinating and work more efficiently?
Few of us are unfamiliar with that nagging desire to put something off. Perhaps the task is unpleasant, perhaps it is difficult or time consuming. Bottom line - we just don’t want to do it.
Understanding the motivation behind procrastination is often our best tool to combatting it. At times it can stem from perfectionism, where you may be so anxious about failing at a task, it is easier not to do it at all. Other times, you may feel overwhelmed by a larger project and cannot figure out where to start. And then there is the constant and readily available nature of today’s distractions - social media, cell phones, Netflix. They can get the best of even those with above-average will power.
1: Transform the deadline mindset
The word “deadline” seems to instill a feeling of dread in many clients that we coach. It’s a race against the clock, a stressful count-down, a horrible weight hanging over one’s head. But consider looking at deadlines in a different light. A deadline can be viewed as a helpful tool – they force you to make decisions and push forward, rather than dwelling on a specific aspect of a project for days. Imagine reframing your thoughts – don’t think of that upcoming due-date as a burden, but rather look forward to it as a time when your work will be finished! In fact, calling it a finish line might help you adopt a different mindset that emphasizes accomplishment instead of looming misery.
2: Make a 5-minute goal
It is no secret that the hardest part about a task is starting it. That initial step often takes far more effort than step two or step three. So make that first goal manageable - and set a time frame. Does you have bills to pay? Take those 5 minutes to locate the relevant material you'll need. Stuck on a work project? Try a 5 minute brainstorm. For some people, jumping that initial hurdle gives them the momentum they need to keep going. Many people work long past the 5 minute ding on the timer once they dive in and really engage with the material.
3: Chunk it
For tackling bigger projects, such as repainting some rooms in your home, the amount of work can be daunting for anyone. Start by first breaking down that project into manageable chunks. An hour of work often seems much more manageable than 7 hours. But chunking is an art form, you may need to experiment to make sure these “chunks” are realistic and specific. Breaking a project into 20 parts may be overwhelming – who can keep track of that much? On the other hand, only 2 or 3 parts may not provide enough structure to keep you on track. Depending on the size of the project, about 5-10 chunks with specific outcomes (such as "select paint colors and determine how much to buy") are ideal. Set interim deadlines (or finish lines) for smaller portions of the project. And for the initial planning session? Make it a 5-minute goal to get the ball rolling!
4: Get creative
Everyone gets stuck. More often than not, the frustration that comes with not knowing how to proceed can cause anyone to go into “shutdown” mode. Why should I attempt something if I have no idea how? One of our biggest mistakes is that we tend to look at projects and or work linearly. Are you feeling completely stuck on selecting a paint color? Skip it and move to the next part. Who says you can’t prep the room with tape while you mull over your choices?
Sometimes approaching a project from a different angle can cast it in an entirely different light and leave you feeling refreshed and ready to move forward.
5: Treat yourself
Don’t discount the power of a reward. Sometimes something as simple as doing an enjoyable activity, like promising yourself a quiet evening walk, can be sufficient to motivate you past a standstill. Brainstorm some small rewards you can work towards, as you tackle that project, chunk by chunk.
Find out how Executive Function coaching can help you achieve your goals.