You wake up ready to go. Yesterday was a wash—chaotic and intense. Today is a new day, though. You are prepared—up half the night making a schedule for everyone. The kids have their schoolwork and you and your spouse have their work from home tasks. Yes, today will be a great day! About 45 minutes into the first activity, you hear, “MOOOOOOM! MOM I NEED A BREAK!” Ugh… Your husband pops in the room just to say hi and your oldest is watching Tik Tok on his phone. You think to yourself, “We are never going to get anything done anyway, let’s just relax!” You whip up some pancakes while your husband and kids rent the latest Jumanji movie. A few more movies and snacks later, you go to bed feeling defeated and overwhelmed at the thought of another month of home schooling.
Sound familiar? Being stuck inside with everyone home (and having to work) can expose our weaknesses fast. Not everyone possesses the skill set needed to complete work at home with grit, organization and integrity. Learn the following executive functioning skills to survive the COVID-19 quarantine.
What are Executive Functioning Skills?
Some people describe executive functioning as the management system of the brain that helps us set goals, plan, and get things done. Most individuals have both strengths and weaknesses in executive functioning skills. Finding your weaknesses will enhance your performance, self-confidence, and sense of achievement and help you teach your children to do the same.
Executive skills can be split into two categories—thinking skills and doing skills. If you can identify how each skill functions, you can create a goal to help yourself and your children either think differently or behave differently.
Executive Thinking Skills:
- Working memory – the ability to hold information in memory while doing other things
- Planning/prioritizing – the ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal and to make decisions on what’s important and what’s not
- Organization – the ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials
- Task initiation – the ability to begin projects without procrastinating
- Time management – the capacity to estimate how much time you have, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines
- Metacognition – the ability to stand back and look at yourself in a situation to observe how you problem solve, to self-monitor and self-evaluate
Executive Doing Skills
- Response inhibition – the capacity to think before you act
- Emotional control – the ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior
- Sustained attention – the capacity to keep paying attention in spite of distractions, fatigue, or boredom
- Task initiation – the ability to begin projects without procrastinating
- Goal-directed persistence – the ability to have a goal and follow through on the goal without getting distracted
- Flexibility – the ability to change plans when faced with setbacks, obstacles, new information, or mistakes
Match the Skills with the Task
Now that you have an awareness of the different thinking and doing skills that make up your executive functioning skills set, you can figure out what executive skills a given task requires and ask yourself whether or not you possess these skills or need to teach yourself how to enhance these skills.
Completing a Project
Let’s take completing a work project or homework task for you and your children as an example. This is something that almost all us are doing (or maybe should be doing) while we are stuck at home. If you or your child is someone who doesn’t exactly look forward to settling in and completing your work projects or tasks and has a difficult time getting started, take a look at the executive skills required to complete the task:
- Task initiation- the ability to begin a task or project without undue procrastination
- Sustained attention- once you begin, sticking it out until the task is completely finished
- Planning/ prioritization- having a plan for your task or project and knowing what’s important and what’s not important to focus on
- Organization- having some way of organizing information to complete the task successfully
- Time management- having the capacity to accurately estimate how much time it would take you to finish your work (or homework) and to stay within a certain deadline or time limit
- Goal-directed persistence- setting the goal of completing the task you have been assigned or have chosen and following through on this goal without getting distracted by other things that you deem more important
Breaking down this task allows us to see that there are multiple executive skills required to successfully complete either a project or a homework assignment. If you or your child struggle with this task, or any other task you are faced with while working from home, list out the executive skills required to complete the task and then identify where things breakdown for you and for your child. Is it time management? Task initiation? Sustained attention?
Come up with a Plan
Now that you can see where your executive skill weaknesses are, come up with a plan that looks like this:
Step 1. Identify the skill (s) you want to work on.
Step 2. Set a goal.
Step 3. Outline the steps you need to follow to reach the goal.
Step 4. Turn the steps into a list, a checklist, or a short set of rules to be followed.
Step 5. Practice following the “rules” until you feel you have mastered the skill.
You may find that you have executive skill strengths that your child lacks and that they have strengths that you lack. Make sure to come up with a plan that meets both your needs and the needs of your child or children. Ensure to create a plan and then to model the behaviors that you are looking for in your children while you are working from home.
It is tempting to take the time at home to relax, worry, or both. Instead of getting stuck in the what ifs of the pandemic, challenge yourself to focus on what you can control. Creating a plan to enhance your executive skills and to teach your children executive skills. Your whole family will reap the benefits long after the virus is over (while also getting a lot more done while at home!)
I love the book Smart But Scattered for adults and Smart But Scattered for Children. Both of these books are great resources for children and adults alike. You don’t have to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD to enhance your executive skills. Click on the links above to check out these two books if you want to increase your productivity and teach your children to do the same.
Side note: We love Amazon and participate in the Amazon Affiliate programs. If you are thinking about purchasing these books through the links above, we do get some credit. Thank you for understanding.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health symptoms that are concerning or that are getting progressively worse, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Thrive is a proud provider of telehealth (tele-therapy). We offer HIPAA compliant video, phone, and text sessions for individuals, adults, and families struggling with mental health. Call 844-984-7483 or request a free, confidential screening online.
Rose Skeeters, MA, LPC, PN2
Rose Skeeters is the CVO of Thrive: Mind/Body, LLC, an innovative mindset coaching & online counseling practice aimed at empowering motivated individuals to master every area of their life. She specializes in family & relationship counseling–helping couples, parents, & families get and stay on the same page. Rose is also the host of From Borderline to Beautiful, a podcast aimed at helping individuals with BPD, CPTSD, and EUPD find hope and help in their recovery journeys. Are you interested in working with Rose? Schedule a consult with her here or contact her today at Rose@thriveonlinecounseling.com.