Developing and Strengthening Executive Functioning Skills for Success

Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills help us self-regulate, resist temptations, and flexibly adapt to new circumstances. They also allow us to plan, stay on task and remain focused.

It’s not widely known, however, that the development of these capacities follows an extended timetable that begins in infancy and continues past adolescence. Building children’s executive function skills benefits everyone.


Prioritizing is a skill that helps people figure out what their most important tasks are. It involves evaluating different values such as importance and urgency to determine the best order for the things that need to get done. People who struggle with this skill may experience problems in work, school and even personal relationships.

Strengthening this executive function skill set can help children and adults become better students, workers and family members. It can also help them stick to healthy routines and improve their quality of life.

The good news is that building these skills is possible, and many strategies can be effective. These include: practicing mindfulness, creating a regular schedule, using visual aids (such as calendars and to-do lists) and color coding items to organize them. It can also be helpful to learn more about how attention and executive functioning skills are connected. This is because EF skills are heavily dependent on attention and vice versa.


Planning is a vital executive function that helps us organize and regulate our behaviors. It allows us to prioritize tasks, control distractions and stay focused. It also helps us follow complex multi-step directions even when we are interrupted. It’s like an air traffic control system in the brain that directs planes landing and taking off.

Plans reduce risks: Planning focuses the attention of managers and employees on the goals of the enterprise. It also prevents overlapping and unnecessary activities. It also ensures that the objectives are clear and specific.

In order to make plans effective, it is essential to create a conducive climate for them. This involves establishing clear cut goals, realistic planning premises and the availability of required information and assistance at different levels. Moreover, top management should support planning efforts and provide all the help needed. The participation of subordinates is a must as they can contribute their best ideas to improve planning effectiveness.


Self-starters are able to maintain high levels of activity, even when they face challenges. They prioritize tasks and continue to work through them until they have reached their goals. Self-starting skills are important for human services agencies to teach learners because they allow them to take control of their own responsibilities and manage their own schedules.

Teach self-starting by working through problem-solving scenarios with learners. For example, ask them to imagine they’re heading to class and realize they don’t have a pencil. What could they do to solve this problem?

To encourage learners to practice their executive functioning skills, provide them with regular feedback. They can share their progress with supervisors, classmates or family members. This can also help them build their self-esteem and confidence in navigating challenging situations.


Sustaining attention to complete a task, and shifting focus to another task when appropriate are essential executive functioning skills. This is why tasks like sustaining handwriting practice, and practicing for longer periods of time are so important. The ability to regulate processing speed is also vital for effective EF.

Everyone can learn to improve their executive function, but it takes work and practice. The foundation is laid in infancy, when children begin developing relationships with responsive caregivers, and learning to pay attention. The development of these skills typically peaks between ages 3 and 5, and again during adolescence.

Think of executive functions like a muscle, they can be strengthened with practice. For example, estimating how long it will take to do something is an executive function skill that can be developed with everyday activities such as cleaning the house or finishing homework. Children can practice these skills through reading books that discuss organization, planning and perseverance.

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