Executive Function Strategies

I’m putting the blog on hiatus for the month of August. Some more details at the end of the post if you’re interested.

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Back in March, someone left a comment on the self-employment series asking me to share some of the ways I manage my executive function challenges in the context of work. With an amusing mix of irony and executive function fail, I’m just now getting around to writing the promised post.

One of the reasons I’ve been avoiding writing this is that I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Should it be a list or a narrative? Does it need examples? How detailed should it be? There was also the nagging fear that maybe all of my executive function hacks are plain old common sense.

Back when I was fourteen and an aspiring doctor, someone recommended that I read “The Making of a Surgeon” by William Nolen. It was a memoir of Nolen’s progression from med school student to surgeon and I excitedly dug into it, hoping for insight into what med school would be like. Only to be disappointed when one of the first grand bits of wisdom that the author offered was how he learned to do multiple chores at one time–literally to pick up records, drop off samples and get his lunch all in the same trip rather than making three separate trips from his unit to do each errand individually.

I remember lying on my bed thinking, “How on earth did this man get into such a prestigious medical school?” It seemed like a no-brainer to me that if you had three things to do, the best option would be to do them in a geographically efficient sequence.

At the risk of some of you having these same kind of thoughts about my executive function hacks, here are some of the strategies I use at work and day-to-day life. 

1. Apps, Reminders and Task Lists, Oh My!

Most important strategy: put everything in writing, either on paper or in an organizational app.

To-Do Lists: I use Todoist to keep track of daily tasks, which are tasks that need to be done on a certain day but aren’t time-specific appointments. I also use it to remind me of recurring tasks like washing the bedsheets and giving the dog her heartworm pills. Happily, the more things I put in Todoist, the more things I get to check off when I finish them. And who doesn’t love checking things off a list?

Calendar: For future appointments, I use Google calendar, with reminders sent to my email and phone. I also use the alarm on my phone to remind me of critical time-sensitive tasks (an important phone call, airline check-in) because if I’m engrossed in work, I might miss a notification. It’s much harder to ignore a ringing alarm.

Lists: I keep a shopping list on the fridge at all times. When I notice I’m running low or using up the last of something, it goes on the list. If I waited until it was time to shopping to make the list, I’d come home with only half of what I needed. I use lists to organize travel, prepare for events and plan shopping trips with multiple stops. Lists are strangely comforting.

Other Useful Tools: I’ve used other tools in the past, particularly in the pre-digital-everything era. Some things that have worked:

  • paper calendars (day planner, desk blotter, wall calendar)
  • printed spreadsheet-style tracking matrices
  • a whiteboard with dry erase markers
  • post-it notes
  • a magnetic board with magnets to organize notes and reminders
  • a visual schedule

I also make liberal use of visual reminders; in fact, I’m going to give them their own section.

2. Visuals

Visual triggers are my failsafe. For example, I keep my bottle of multivitamins on the kitchen counter because I haven’t yet integrated them into a new routine (more on that in a bit). At some point during the day, I’ll walk into the kitchen and see the bottle, which will trigger a “hmmm, have I done that yet?” thought.

I make heavy use of visual reminders in my office too. Right now on my desk I have:

  • legal pad with dated notes for a work project that requires daily updates
  • a printed email that I need to take action on later today
  • a draft of an earlier version of this post so I remember to work on it
  • a stack of torn-up scrap paper under my pen jar, making it easy to quickly make new notes
  • a coded record of the anonymous survey answers I’ve transferred from Survey Monkey to date, which is my daily reminder to check for new answers
  • my food diary for the month, ensuring that I update it throughout the day
  • a piece of junk mail from my bank, a reminder to log in to my account and check on a minor update I requested
  • a call for submissions for an anthology that I need to start working on (this is motivation by guilt at this point because the deadline is far away)
  • a print out of the proofreader’s queries for my book, which I work on each evening
  • a clipped together stack of test results with the neurologist’s phone number on top, my nagging back-up reminder to phone (ack!) for an appointment when the office reopens
  • the dog’s records folder with a note on top that reads “bring poop”, all of which I need to take with me to her vet appt on Friday (serving as reminders to take the paperwork and collect a sample and go to the appointment)

Whew. Typing that was kind of stressful, but seeing the stuff on my desk is comforting. I think visual reminders help me quantify tasks more easily than a one-dimensional list does.

bullseye

3. Routine, Routine, Routine

One weakness in my organizational system is that I can go hours without remembering to actually look at my to-do list. One solution has been setting up a daily reminder email from Todoist, which I use as a trigger to open my to-do list in a browser tab each morning. Seeing the open tab reminds me to occasionally look at my goals for the day.

My day is structured around small but important routines like this. So much so that if I change a routine, I’ll often forget to do the tasks associated with it. Recently I decided to start taking my multivitamin at lunch because I’ve switched to having smoothies for breakfast and vitamin + smoothie = tummy upset. It’s been nearly a month and for some reason, the “vitamin at lunch” routine just isn’t sticking. At least a few days a week I’ll notice the vitamin bottle sitting on the counter and realize it’s mid-afternoon and no vitamins have been taken. Visual reminder to the rescue.

In general, though, one of the surest ways for me to remember to do anything is to make it part of a daily routine. Which has led to the development of elaborate systems around recurring work tasks.

4. There’s a System for That

Doing recurring tasks systematically reduces the chances that I’ll miss a critical step. I’ve developed weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual systems for everything from paying the bills to filing tax forms. Systems ensure that recurring tasks get done the same (right) way each time.

A system can be as simple as “pay a bill, enter the expense into the accounting software, file the bill” or as complex as a daily accounting process used to track sales and commissions. Regardless of the scale, the principles are the same–a process that can be replicated by following a series of predetermined steps, ensuring consistency and reducing the need to “reinvent the wheel” each time the task is done.

For infrequent tasks or a change in process, I document the required steps along with key information needed to perform them (account numbers, logins, etc.). Eventually most systems become second nature to me, but until that happens, having written “cheat sheets” is a big help.

5. File Everything

I’m one of those dorks who loves to file things. My traditional New Year’s Day activity is to archive and purge my filing cabinet. Before everything was computerized, I had two 4-drawer filing cabinets in my office plus a huge (really, massively huge) fire-proof filing cabinet that we’d inherited when bought a very old house.

I’m down to one 2-drawer filing cabinet now because most stuff is stored digitally. But being a traditionalist, I still print and save important documents. Things that don’t need to be immediately referenced to into boxes, labeled by subject and year. This sounds obsessive until you realize that the IRS (for example) can demand business records going back seven years.

Just a few months ago I got an IRS notice that made no sense. Within 15 minutes I was able to put my hands on the 2-year-old documents it was referencing and see that the IRS had made a computer error. A phone call confirmed my conclusion and the documents went back into their box. I might have gloated just a bit.

My filing system is simple: hanging folders labeled by subject–subjects that are broad enough that I don’t have to look in multiple folders guessing at where I put something but narrow enough that no folder is more than a half inch thick. Documents go into them in no particular order. Occasionally I use manila folders to subdivide a subject if it seems necessary.

My system works for me, but others might find it too loosely organized. A good portion of why it works is that I have a freakishly good memory for where I’ve filed things and why.

files

6. Interim and “False” Deadlines

If a project has many steps or is going to take me more than a day or two to complete, I break it into multiple interim deadlines. This was an especially valuable trick during the four years I spent taking college classes while working full time. To keep from getting overwhelmed by school and work, I kept a separate homework calendar, with multiple interim reminders for every assignment. At a minimum, I set “deadlines” on my calendar for when to start an assignment, when to work on it and when it was due.

Often these deadlines are meaningless to anyone but me. My professors didn’t care if I started a Powerpoint presentation three weeks before it was due or that I had a complete first draft done one week before the due date. But for me, these “false” deadlines are an essential tool to staying on track with big projects.

I use them for work too, splitting months-long projects into goals like “20 pages a week for 6 weeks” or “one chapter a day” for the next eight days. Not only does that help me ensure steady progress, but it addresses my difficulties with conceptualizing longer time frames. I’m more motivated by knowing that I have reasonable 6-week plan for finishing a 120-page project than plodding along with no idea of when I might be finished.

7. Incremental Planning

Getting started on things can be challenging. Sometimes it’s a planning problem. Sometimes it’s an initiation thing. Often it’s a little of both.

I was going to say that I don’t have any tricks for effective planning but I realized that list and reminder making is how I plan. My thinking process isn’t well suited to “let’s sit down and make a plan.” Instead, I plan incrementally.

What does that mean? Usually I start with a simple groundwork step to get my brain moving in the right direction. I might make some initial notes but maybe not. Then I put the task on the back burner to simmer. When an idea related to the task surfaces, I make a note of it, think a bit more. If nothing else comes to mind, back on simmer it goes. Eventually, after a few rounds of simmering and making notes, the idea will come to a boil and I’ll be able to complete an initial plan.

If that explanation is too metaphorical, here’s an example to illustrate:

Last week, I received proofs for my book with instructions for making final corrections. This is the kind of task that, if I’m not careful, will overwhelm me. It’s big and important and multi-part and will take many hours to complete. I noted the early August deadline, closed the email and took some deep breaths.

The next morning I did my groundwork step: I printed out the queries and downloaded the PDF to my tablet.

Then I put it on my mental back burner: Throughout the day I occasionally thought about how best to approach the proofing process. My first instinct was to push it off to the weekend and do it all in one marathon session. That seemed both exhausting and like an invitation to disaster; I filed it under worst case scenario and kept thinking.

Eventually, while watering my squash plants and mulling other possibilities, I realized that I could proofread one chapter a day and be done with a few days to spare. While I wouldn’t be finished “quickly”, the results should be higher quality. I also knew that one chapter a day was a reasonable time commitment. I had no idea if a weekend was even a realistic time frame for finishing. I went inside and scheduled a chapter for each day in Todoist, starting the next day.

I’ve found that I plan best when I don’t force things. If I feel like the planning process is on a deadline, I tend to settle for the first plan that comes to mind (usually not be the best option). In this case, the initial plan would have eaten up my weekend and left me drained. The final plan requires a moderate amount of time each evening and ensures that I’ll approach each chapter fresh, with an unhurried attitude.

And this ties into one of the best tricks I know for starting big, intimidating tasks. Like cleaning up the kitchen . . .

clips3

8. Just One Thing

Initiation can be a big hurdle when you have wonky executive function. I’ve learned that I can trick myself into starting a big task by telling myself that I’ll just do one small thing. Like this:

I walk into the kitchen to make breakfast smoothies and discover that the sink is filled with last night’s dirty dishes and the dishwasher is full of clean dishes. The thought of putting away the clean dishes, loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and washing the non-dishwasher-safe items by hand is daunting.

As I’m standing there contemplating my dish problem (and yeah, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that this feels like a huge insurmountable problem at 7 AM) I think, “oh, I need the smoothie glasses from the dishwasher” and I take them out.

Now the dishwasher is open, so while the blender is blending, I decide to move the rest of the glasses to the cabinet, emptying the top rack. Half done! How rewarding! And all in the 60 seconds that I would have been idly standing there watching the blender do its thing.

Inspired by this progress, I empty the bottom rack while the blender runs through a cleaning cycle. 60 more seconds and, yay, empty dishwasher. Now, cleaning up the sink feels easier. I move some glasses and plates to the empty dishwasher, leaving just a brownie pan and some utensils. “Since I have to wash out the blender anyhow, I might as well wash these few extra items,” I tell myself.

And I’m done.

The actual time spent on the dishes was less than 5 minutes. It wasn’t the length of the task that threw me but having to sequence multiple steps and initiate them. By tackling each one as an individual task in itself, I can do an end run around the sequencing problem, simplifying the initiation process. A small specific task like putting away 8 glasses feels more manageable than the vaguer concept of “do something about this mess.”

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This post is turning into an unruly monster so I’ll stop here. Even if the hacks I use aren’t new or useful, hopefully this has illustrated some of what goes into managing an executive function deficit on a daily basis.

People often assume that because I run a business I must be “soooooo high functioning” or just not that autistic. The reality is messier. To make up for my EF deficits I’ve learned to be hyper-organized and to create double and triple checks in the areas where I’m most likely to get tripped up.

Consequently, my EF hacks are skewed toward the areas where I need the most help: planning, initiation, attention, working memory and organization. Or maybe they’re skewed toward the areas where I’ve found it easier to compensate. I would love to hear about how others wrangle their EF deficits, especially in relation to cognitive flexibility and monitoring of actions, which I find especially hard to compensate for in the moment and often only manage to troubleshoot in hindsight.

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More Executive Function Strategies:

Executive Function Mentor: This 2-part series by Mados talks about how she mentored her brother in EF strategies after the sudden death of their father. Part 1 explains the situation and the scope of the problem and part 2 details the many excellent strategies she helped her brother put into place.  Part 1 (Why)  |  Part 2 (Strategies)

As a follow-up to this post, Mados has added a post about her own Executive Function Strategies, which has in-depth information on how to use Todoist effectively plus additional strategies she uses (with photos!) to manage her daily life.

 


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A Hiatus

Over the past month, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with blogging. For a while now I’ve noticed that my expressive language is becoming more literal and I was okay with that, as long as I was producing blog posts that felt informative. But I’ve noticed that my receptive language has recently become so literal and jumbled that I’m having trouble processing and responding to comments in the way I’d like. That, combined with how hard writing has become, and the frustration triggered by the constant reminders of my language problems has finally hit a tipping point.

In the interest of self-care, I’m taking the month of August off from blogging. There are three more sets of survey questions, which I promise to post in September, whether I’m back to writing again or not. In the mean time, I’m training for a triathlon in September and I’ve taken up gardening and cooking everything from scratch and fishing (!) and playing games like Game About Squares. So life in general is good, it’s just a lot less verbal than it was a year ago.

I’ll miss all of you. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

The pond in my neighborhood, at sunset, on a beautiful summer night
The pond in my neighborhood, at sunset, on a beautiful summer night

122 thoughts on “Executive Function Strategies”

  1. Enjoy your break! That’s a lovely mixture of activities. I’m glad you are doing what you need, you’ve certainly helped me (and I’m sure others) with learning to be kinder to oneself. I have a long way to go with self-care but you are both inspiring and encouraging. Thank you.

    Best wishes for a wonderful summer!

    1. I agree. Enjoy your break, and please do come back. I have learned so much from you and your readers. This is just so helpful to me. Thank you. And take care.

  2. I am going to utilize these ideas. Yes examples do help a lot. I thank you for writing them and posting them! My executive function does not handle well at all anything that has to do with paper, so I have to find ways to accomodate that.
    I am moving tomorrow (!) to a new house (in a new town and state). So the timing of this post is perfect; these strategies will be added to a couple of mine to help me start anew.
    The pond picture is lovely. All the best to you. Enjoy your garden and cooking.
    Hope to read your words again in September. 🙂

    1. I’m glad the examples were helpful. This post is so long and wordy and I was worried about adding more to it.

      Good luck with your move! Moving so stressful and exciting and confusing.

  3. Oh you could be talking about me! Most of the ‘mess’ I accumulate on my desk or work benches consists of those visual reminders you write about. If I tidy “it” away there is no chance I’ll remember what it was I had once thought to do with “it”. In my spaces (study & garage) thats not so much of a problem but when it spills into the rest of the house my other half thwarts my efforts more often than not! She is a leetle bit OCD IMO and can’t bare things being left out. For instance, I have a number of drugs/pills to take daily and having them in a promenant place helps me remember to take them. They can’t be left on display though, I make do with them getting to be at the front of a shelf in a cupboard – but behind a door. It is a food cupboard also so there is a very good chance I’ll be opening the door at some point each day 😉
    I. Love. Lists.
    For the important work stuff a HUGE white board in my study carries a number of to do lists of varying importance. To Do Today, To Do this week, To Do sometime…. et cetara.
    And yes, appointments and important birthdays/anniversaries go into the phone calendar with progressive reminders – eg. 1 week before AND 1 day before.
    Having more routine would help me I’m sure. The problem there is whenever I get organised into any kind of routine something conspires to spoil it and then it falls apart as quickly as it came together. Part of that, I think, is that I’ll bend far to easily to others demands upon me. Avoiding confrontation or having to justify why I need to be doing X just not and not Y.
    And this “Usually I start with a simple groundwork step to get my brain moving in the right direction. I might make some initial notes but maybe not. Then I put the task on the back burner to simmer. When an idea related to the task surfaces, I make a note of it, think a bit more. If nothing else comes to mind, back on simmer it goes. Eventually, after a few rounds of simmering and making notes, the idea will come to a boil and I’ll be able to complete an initial plan.”, is, was, and I suspect will always be how projects come together for me. 🙂

    We are not alone 😉

    1. It’s nice to know that someone else uses the same planning strategy. It feels very roundabout and inefficient at times, but it works.

      It sounds like you and your SO have some competing needs going on. 🙂 I’m glad you’re able to find ways to work around her difficulty with “messiness” that works for you. It seems to be all about finding just the right visual location for things, regardless of whether they’re out in the open or strategically placed in a spot that we’ll check frequently.

  4. I will not click on the game link, I will not click on the game link…..😝 last time you did that to me it ate up at least a week lol. I really really really hope people follow instructions and link or talk about their strategies! My oldest son is 16 and really struggles in this area and I have no idea whatsoever how to assist him…ok well some idea but its hard to undo 16 yrs of allistic strategies drilled in that don’t work, especially when he doesn’t live with me full time and uses time here as his decompression…

    1. Ha! Did you give in? I’m stuck on level 26 and it’s maddeningly hard. My husband and I have been playing together at times because he’s better with visual puzzles so it’s a fun way to pass some time in the evening.

      I hope your son is able to find some strategies that work for him. It’s different for everyone and there are some issues that I don’t think I’ll ever quite solve to my liking, but at least I’ve found some key things that help me keep life from being a complete roller coaster ride.

  5. There is an app that I use, it is ok to share? It is called Cozi, and it has a calendar and a journal function, and you can add multiple shopping lists and to-do lists. I have a shopping list for each store I shop at, and to-do lists labeled “Today”, “This Week”, etc. I look at it first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and whenever I feel off-track, which can be multiple times a day, sometimes. I just look at each function and I know that I am getting the important things done. I use the free version, but it does have a pay version which has more features, I think menu-planning is one, but I haven’t looked into it.

  6. Miss you already! How will I know when it’s Tuesday each week?! Oh well, I’ll just have to start going through the previous months from before I knew I was part of the coolest group on the planet 🙂
    Will be back to comment on this properly later but I’m struggling to spell properly at the moment so I think I need more tea, or something!
    Have a splendid August anyway 🙂

    1. A month of no Tuesdays! 😀 I’d say there must be enough content around here to keep you occupied for a month but there are still people who tell me that they read the entire backlog of posts in 2 days so . . .

      Thank you for the good wishes – enjoy your August!

  7. Another well-written and helpful post, Cynthia. Enjoy your self-care time with new projects, all of which sound like great fun (although you’ll never see yours truly training for a triathlon! 5K, anyone?). I’ll be looking forward to your return.

  8. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m learning to embrace the fact that I’m actually a deeply scattered person (oh executive dysfunction), but I just have a lot of systems that protect me from this painful reality. However it’s harder to do these systems as my anxiety heightens. Summer school projects were a wake-up call this year — I finished them, but just barely.

    I got a big whiteboard the day after final projects were due. That’s helped a lot. It’s on my living room wall, beside a bunch of colored markers. I too find lists terribly comforting.

    1. Ditto, I’ve always thought I was extremely organised and lacking in that side of Aspiedom but I’m realising that I just have plenty of coping mechanisms in place to get me through it. I adore lists – they make feel secure. And they empty my head which means it stops spinning when I’m struggling.

      1. Lists do help with the spinning. I have generalized anxiety too, so when I get in seemingly uncontrollable worry loops, lists help get all of those thoughts somewhere concrete. It makes things feel real.

    2. I’ve had good luck with using white boards for projects and deadlines. Also, colored markers!

      School really forced me to ramp up my organizational habits because there were So Many Deadlines. Just thinking about it puts a knot in my stomach. :-/

      1. I’ve noticed that creating a small task list for the day (with actually doable items on it helps). Checking off things is also mildly reinforcing: “Look at you. You did that.”

        Grad school makes me increasingly inventive at managing the executive dysfunction. Lots of self-created organizational supports (although hoping Disability Services can help in the fall).

        1. Doable item is a really really important point. Sometimes my to-do list could be 15 items long but each item requires less than 10 minutes and sometimes it has just 2 things on it but they’re so time consuming that I’m lucky to finish one.

          I’d love to hear about your experience with Disability Services.

          1. We’ll see how it goes. The process feels very roundabout here since I’ve mostly relied on campus-based mental health services (who rarely labels). I got a referral to psychologist in town who sees autistic adults in a few weeks, so hopefully that will help. I saw a private psychiatrist last year, so I have GAD documentation through him. I know I meet diagnostic criteria for ASD, but I need a clinician to vouch for that, so I can apply for supports on campus.

  9. I’ve always found that holding a fishing rod dramatically improves my EF skills. I can’t find any reliable study to prove this (they never seem to work on the really important stuff), so I’ll just have to continue with my own research. I hope it has the same effect for you.

    Have a wonderful August.

    1. I think you’re teasing me, right?

      The fishing is actually my husband’s new hobby and he’s tricked me into going with him. I’ve gotten quite good at casting and have caught a few porgies, a baby shark (carefully put him back) and a sea robin (ugly, like whoa, but delicious).

  10. Great post (as always). I struggle with executive function (even though it’s my daughter with the Aspie diagnosis, rather than me) so these are good tips.
    Enjoy your August away from the blogosphere and thank you for taking the time to write this blog – I have found a lot of wisdom here.

  11. This is great! I use all of these. People called my method, compartmentalizing, and I thought I learned it from the military. Most likely, the military helped, giving me the structure to create these processes, but essentially it was trial and error of incompleted tasts and knowing I needed to do something anout it. I tend to be more tightly organized by having things in date order. My books, non-fiction, are organized categorically and then by size, so I know when the next category begins. An example would be that I have quilting, embroidery, crochet, knitting, household, sewing, and fashion history books. They are all “craft” books but each subject has at least 30 books. So, this cascade style of organizing my books helps me visually see what I have. I can find what I want much faster this way.

    I think you should write a book for people in college and those just starting in the workforce who need tips like this. Everyone blamed procrastination for not getting things done but I think it’s more a lack of step by step, incremental, goals and planning. People look at their messy house and think, I’ll clean it later, because it’s overwhelming.

    1. I think a huge amount of trial and error went into my strategies as well, along with picking up some things that I observed others doing. Your books system sounds a lot like the Dewey decimal system with the addition of shelving by size. Which libraries should totally do. 😉

      I think you’re exactly right about the role of overwhelm in procrastination. Tackling things step by step probably seems boring but it does work. And even if you only get a few steps done, that’s a few more than nothing.

      1. Hahaha. I just realized I probably do use the dewey decimal system. I volunteered at the library for community service when I was in 8th grade and loved it. The library has always been my favorite hangout. I think it would be really helpful if they also went by size, but they use alpha numeric and size matters not.

        I hope you have a restful time off. I love your blog, so I’ll be waiting with everyone else for future posts. 🙂

        1. I’ve always loved libraries. I moved to a new town in May and promptly got a library card but I haven’t used it yet, which is probably a record amount of time for me not checking a library book. 🙂

          I hope your August is a good and restful one.

          1. I keep forgetting about libraries. I know that that might sound odd but they were never very well stocked when, and where, I was growing up so I never got into the habit of using them. However, I am also in a new city and I am desperate to know more about the architecture I’m walking amidst when I go off on my urban treks. Architecture books would cost me a (not so) small fortune, and I’m not even sure what ones I want yet, so it’s off with me to my local library tomorrow. I was able to check their catalogue online and they have so many books on the topic that I will be coming out with armfuls of books if they let me. I am actually so excited; morning cannot come fast enough! Free books! About buildings!

              1. I used to work as a librarian and I can tell you… a lot of librarians are autistic! Libraries are our natural home!

                1. So was mine!
                  I’m not sure I’d cope though if I was one – for starters having people want to borrow the books (which i would no doubt see as MY books), and leaving gaps on my tidy shelves. Then the powers that be would probably insist on some sort of strange system of organisation rather than letting me put them in subjects that I think work well, and then laid out so that the colours work together (so important! Except obviously where it’s a numbered or time-organised series in which case that takes precedence). And all those shelves needing dusting… And people wanting to come in and out…. No, sadly not for me. Though I’d love to be able to splurge and have a small library of my own. And some of my daydreams do involve me donating money to fund school libraries (with particularly good classical history sections) – so it’s cool how the important things surface subconsciously.
                  And in my quest to read all my fiction books through from start to end, this month I’m back to Enid Blyton, where everything has a happy ending and a simple well-formulated standard plot with the same character types. Happy, happy, happy 🙂

                2. That makes so much sense. For the last year or so I’ve been part-time at the library. It’s such a calming place, especially since I mostly move books around and sort them. The sorting and systematizing is grounding.

                3. I have to ask — people keep telling me that librarianship is a perfect career for my Aspie teen son, but my understanding is that an MLA is like an MBA, they expect you to be in management and supervise other librarians (who are all working on their MLAs), That sounds like a terrible job for my particular kid. So how do you become a non-management librarian ?

  12. These are all great and I could relate to much of what you do! I have the same issues and solutions – and you also mentioned a few I had never thought of! I understand your need for a hiatus and I wish you well, but it will be sad for me because I check this spot every day. It is the only place I feel “safe” and “understood” on the web…but I also get it and want you to take time you need…it sounds like you also have some crazy deadlines and summer is often so busy that blogging takes a back seat anyway ( mine certainly has!) all that to say you will be missed:) Self care is so important and I hope you enjoy it all!

    1. Thank you for this. I desperately profoundly needed it. I have this exhaustion dysfunction thing going on and motivation has been hard. Sometimes I need someone to tell me what to do because trying to decide what to do seems to require something that I can’t access. There are lots of concrete things that I can *do* here.

      Have a great August and thank you for your wonderful blog.

      1. It sounds like the timing on this was good for a few people. I hope some of the strategies here will help you chip away at the dysfunction you’re experiencing. Motivation can seem so far away when you’re in that kind of rut. :-/

        Thank you for the good wishes and I hope things start to get better for you soon.

    2. Awww, I hope you’ll continue to think of this as a safe space. Just a bit quieter one for a while. It’ll be interesting to see what the hiatus brings. Maybe I’ll be stir crazy by the first week of August. I’ve never taken this much time off without being on vacation. Thank you for the good wishes! I hope your August is a good one.

  13. I agree with, well apparently with everyone here, that a) those tips were very helpful, as I often find concrete examples to be, especially where the process behind the thinking is explained; and b) you and your blog will be sorely missed, but it’s great that you are so self-aware and self-caring that you are taking a month off. There’s a lesson in there for me definitely, part of which might be that even when others do not notice we are struggling, that does not mean we do not struggle. People often seem to mean it as a compliment ‘Oh no, I think you’re doing just fine’ but it can feel like one more burden placed upon you, as opposed to one lifted from you, which is why you disclosed your need for help in the first place. I say ‘you’ but I’m referring to any number of people in any number of situations where they realize they need assistance, or need to take a break from something. I suspect that I might face a little bit of that when I ultimately disclose my ASD to more people, and try to give them examples of traits when they ask for them. ‘Oh, I do that too!’ or ‘But I have that as well, and I’m not/do not have whatever it is you are/have’ seems to be a common refrain when telling someone something about your health etc., but I think I will be okay just saying to anyone who might say that ‘Yes, but probably not in the way that I do or have that thing.’ So, even as you go on hiatus Cynthia, you’ve giving me enough nutritious food for thought to feed me for *at least* a month.

    I cannot thank you enough for the existence of this blog, and the diligence with which you work on it. It has, with no hint of exaggeration, changed my life. You were the first google hit I got on some rambling sentence I entered about undiagnosed/late diagnosed adult aspies, and I think if I hadn’t got to this blog as soon as I did, my research might not have been as fruitful as it has been.

    1. What a wonderful interpretation you’ve given me. When I told my husband that I’d decided to take a month off from blogging, he looked like he’d seen a ghost momentarily. I think that was when it hit him just how much I’m struggling, even though he gets and up close and personal view of it most days. His first question was “what can I do to help you this month?” which was really sweet. He’s already volunteered to be my triathlon “coach” and support person, which has been a lot of fun. Well, for me at least.

      It means a lot to me to hear that this blog has been so important to you (and yay Google! for serving it up to you). Since the beginning I’ve tried to make this the kind of place I wanted to find when I was first diagnosed so your comment is a bit like seeing a dream come true. 🙂

  14. Hi all, I am not sure if you can help or not. One of my major difficulties is losing things, I find it so frustrating. Is this due to executive functioning? I put things down, leave things all over the place, with no recollection of where, when etc. I now have various friends who help by picking up my things as I go along. I have lost count of how many times I’ve had to cancel my phone contract because it’s lost only to have it turn up several days later in the most unexpected places. Strategies always helpful I find this so distressing at times. Cynthia you are a star. Rest and recover and thanks.

    1. This does sound like an EF thing – maybe specifically related to short term memory and attention. I’m going to think about strategies but hopefully someone else will have something they’ve used that works. Specifically for your phone, if you have Android phone, there’s an app called Seekdroid that will find your phone if you lose it. This has saved me more than once because I lose my phone a lot too and often when it’s in silent mode. It was only 99 cents for the app when I bought it years ago – not sure about today.

      Thank you for the kind words. ❤

    2. Hi Kim, I used to struggle with loosing things. I stumbled across a hack that works for me. I have a large canvas tote bag that goes everywhere with me. I developed the habit of putting everything, and I mean everything, in it. If I have to put something down and I don’t know where it belongs, it goes into the bag. If it belongs somewhere else, throw it in the bag. This morning I added a jar of peanuts and a can of soda because they belonged at work. I added candy wrappers when I got to the car because they didn’t belong in the car. My paycheck, a to-do list, a pen, a roll and the name of a recommended restaurant got added at work. I forgot to bring cash to work, so I looked in the bag and found some! That reminded me to take out the peanuts and soda. Back home I added mail, a dog leash and a crochet hook. Just now I looked in the bag and discovered my car manual as well as two note books and a scarf that I thought I was still wearing.

      The other part of the equation is living minimally. The less stuff I own, the easier it is to find any of it.

      One more hint: have a spare, empty bag. I once lost a loaded toothbrush and found it in my bag. Ewwwe!

      1. Haa haa, thanks this sounds a great idea must try it. My friend has tried to get me into the habit of putting my keys in one place and I’ve got slightly better with this. It does depend how overloaded I am and I have to make a conscious effort to do this. It’s hard x

  15. Have a good break and come back refreshed. I’ll miss the blog (although I still haven’t read all the back-issues) but it might be good for me to take a break too as per last weeks question 9!

    1. Thank you – taking breaks occasionally is good for us. It’s taken me a long time to realize this so just making the decision to take time off for “no reason” feels like huge progress for me in the area of self-care.

  16. Thank you so much for this post! So many of your posts have been beneficial to me in a lot of ways. I find it challenging to comment much, but today is a good day. 🙂 I can relate to much of what you share too about the reasons for taking a hiatus. I have had to take a step back from blogging and regain my focus. More of my attentions are needed elsewhere and part of that is self-care too. How exciting training for a triathlon! I am considering doing one next year, this year is my first half marathon.

    I hope you have a wonderful hiatus, and thank you for all that you contribute to our community. Best wishes!

    1. I totally relate to your difficulties with commenting. I see so many posts go by on my reader and on Twitter that I want to comment on and then don’t. 😦

      Good luck with your half marathon! I’ve done a couple of them and each one was a memorable experience. The triathlon has always been a dream of mine and I’m not getting any younger so I decided to go for it. It’s also given me goals to focus on and has quickly turned into a new special interest. (!)

  17. Enjoy your well deserved break. As you can see above, you are an inspiration to so many. I hope your time off rekindles your muse.
    julia

  18. I definitely need to use a lot of visuals. But it has made my desk and home “messy”. I am afraid to put anything away that I’m not 100% done with. When I clean up then I forget important things and then can’t find them when I remember them!
    I keep a lot of windows/tabs open on the computer too, for this reason. My husband and/or co-workers are always saying not to leave so many things open!

    1. My husband is the king of open tabs. I have no idea how he even knows what he as open when there are 20+ tabs.

      Finding the balance between having visual reminders and having an unruly mess is tough. I have the benefit of a cleaning lady who we hire to clean twice a month. Before she visits, I’m in the habit of tidying up my desk (and the rest of the house) and putting or disposing of anything that isn’t serving an immediate purpose. That seems to help a bit in keeping the overall chaos from becoming too much to be useful for me.

  19. For decades I tried to be organised, but every method seemed to have major flaws. Admittedly electronic organisers weren’t available back then. Even keeping a filing cabinet was beyond my ability. Too often something would be eligible to be stored under more than one classification, and invariably I would file it under a classification that I would least likely to use if I ever needed to retrieve it again. I tried all sorts of cross referencing until each one became a maintenance nightmare.

    I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single executive function strategy that has worked for me. Probably the biggest hurdle is remembering to implement them religiously. That’s something I’ve never been able to do. I’m told that if you repeat an activity evey day for a month, it becomes a habit. But how does one remember to repeat the activity each day until it becomes a habit? I’ve tried all sorts of reminders, but you have to remember to check the reminder. Even an alarm on my mobile phone is pointless as invariably I and the phone are not in close proximity. Even if we are, I’ve probably forgotten to charge the thing.

    I found the stress of trying to be organised too much to cope with. Today I’m happy with my disorganised chaos.

    1. Whatever works, right? When my daughter was younger, getting her to be organized seemed to be more hassle than it was worth. We settled for a “if you can find stuff in your room then I won’t make you clean it” rule. That meant if she was missing a soccer cleat as we were leaving for practice or couldn’t find the markers that she needed to do a school project, it was time to bring some order to her belongings. But if she could locate stuff in the mess, then I stayed out of it.

      1. In all honesty it doesn’t work, but I’ve learnt to live with it and remain happy. I do keep things reasonably tidy, but Murphy’s law dictates that as soon as I put something away, I will need it again and won’t remember where I tidied it to. I do make notes to myself frequently. I am finding them all the time, but invariably their “expiry date” has come and gone. It’s quite possible that some of the strategies you describe just might work for me if they could become habits. But forming habits is one skill I have never mastered.

        1. I totally agree – habit forming seems to be the key to a lot of EF hacks but I find it almost impossible to form new good habits on demand (although I seem to acquire new bad habits quite readily).

  20. Great post! This is useful.

    Also thank you for the links!

    My current executive strategies are as follows:

    – My overall “big picture” management tool is Todoist, and I have a comprehensive colour coding and sub-folder system that covers all major aspects of my life: work, home (house chores, garden work, bills, documentation etc), creative projects and social activities. Every task is scheduled in Todoist, big and small…

    For more complex sequences of tasks such as the work assignments, I use templates saved so I just import the template for each assignment and adjust the dates (each assignment involve at least about 30 distinct tasks, of which most are interviews. This is a bit simplified, but they all have the same structure and procedure from the start). I use the comment function to put as much information as necessary on each task (e.g. paste whole emails, web addresses and addresses in). That is to have all the info ready to do the task, but also as later reference after the task is done. For recurring bills, I always write what I paid, when and how, in the comments so I when a bill shows up as due on my agenda I always have the full overview over what has been paid before and when, how etc… and if useful also the BPay/account number and similar details.

    I use Todoist on my computer and Android tablet (the premium version, which enables me to use more and nicer colours, tags (actually they can also be used in the free version although they aren’t supposed to), comments and the import-export function… all of which I use extensively).

    It use it to remember to do things and get a visual overview over what I need to do every day and within each area, but also to get the reward of crossing it off and seeing it added to the “karma line”. I’ll even add a task I have done to cross it over, if somehow it was not in the system (yes, I know that is childish)… to keep the system consistent.

    – I use a physical calendar I have in my bag to write appointments in, especially interview appointments, and I have a colour system there too that helps me get a visual overview over the assignments so that I never get surprised or miss a deadline. That’s of course double entry, but that is because it is so important to be ahead of the game with the interviews, and it also helps me to prepare mentally for what is ahead – the overview moves into my head that way.

    – My day is framed with routines. I start the morning with a short yoga-like sequence, then have coffee, then we walk the dogs, then I run, have breakfast, wash & start the day. Every evening is wrapped up with reading a book chapter (approximately) up for my husband, that is what marks the end of the day. The in-between adls such as remember to eat lunch, shower and all that, are all scheduled in Todoist.

    – I file documents in manila folders: one for household bills and docs, one for personal docs and letters, one for docs and news letters from my employer, etc. From there they are supposed to be put in their respective folders, but that rarely happens. That is OK, they are roughly organised and out of sight.

    – For physical documents, such as unpaid bills, I have a folder with colourful dividers where I loosely put the bills in until they are paid/taken care of, which is in a fixed place so I never need to go around and look for a document I need to take care of. I hate to look for things, so every thing in the house has a right place and can’t be anywhere else.

    That is how the major things are organised… There are many smaller areas where I always do things in a particular order or have some other way of sequencing tasks so I can get through them effectively and don’t get overwhelmed / lost on the way.

    I like a lot of what you write in this post, including your thoughts about incremental planning and having a system for everything. In essence, I think we’re having fairly similar solutions in this area. I have been heard many times during the last 5 years or so that I am very well organised, due to all my effective systems. Which totally conceals the fact that I used to be very unstructured in big and small life aspects, and that’s the form my life can quickly fall into again if I allow myself to slack much and don’t consistently use and fine-tune my systems:-) I’m like an alcoholic who doesn’t drink: if I don’t focus on being organised, then chaos takes over.

    Good luck with the triathlon! and with your life offline. It sounds great:-) Word-based communication is in many ways overrated anyway.

    1. You’re very welcome! Do you want me to change it to read Anna or Anna at Mados for the credit?

      I admire people who are able to set up beautifully organized subfolders and color coded systems in Todoist. I have a blunt force approach to organizing that is very broad. Like all of my home-related tasks are listed under “Home” and work is only divided into “Work”, “Recurring Work Tasks” and one project-based folder because that particular project is massive and ongoing and I need to compartmentalize it. I also have Blogging, Vacation, Personal Care and Moving (needs to be deleted) but for me the main thing is just getting the right tasks on the right day.

      Also templates are a lifesaver in so many areas. I forgot to include that in my post but I use templates for many recurring work tasks. The only potential downfall is forgetting to change an item and then having an artifact from a previous project goofing up the current one.

      Double entry is another thing that I use a lot. It’s not redundant if I only see one of the reminders! 🙂

      Your bill paying system reminds me of my dad’s. When he was recently hospitalized, I helped my mom go over the bills and finances and his system was so well organized that we were able to figure out exactly what had been paid and what was due and how each item got paid, etc. It’s not something we’d like to think about, but having a good system for important household tasks that we’re responsible for can be a blessing if something happens and a loved one needs to figure out the status of things like bills.

      Thank you for the good wishes and thank you again for pointing out my word mix-up. It’s nice to know that someone will gently give me a heads up. 🙂

      1. Do you want me to change it to read Anna or Anna at Mados for the credit?

        No, it is fine what you have done:-)

        and I like to hear that you are also using templates:-)

        I reworked my comment above into a new post about executive function strategies (and added a bit – also lots of print screens). It is done but I am so tired it might be wiser to proof read it tomorrow before I post it. Thank you for the great inspiration, I hope this isn’t creating an “Executive Function Post overload” in the blogosphere. I like to think of it as a kind of synergy effect.

        The system you describe for bill paying doesn’t sound so much like mine, but it sounds like my dad’s… We were also able to easily see exactly what had been paid, how, and fetch the information the accountant needed to do the tax return. Everything was filed, labelled, and well organised.

        1. When your new post is up, I’ll add the link to it. I don’t think we can have too many executive function strategies posts. Everyone has different approaches so I think “the more, the merrier” applies. 🙂

          1. Done! I have added diary writing routine, that wasn’t included in the comment.

            (Amazing so much quicker it is to write a post when starting by reworking a comment… and how much faster it goes to write a comment than a post, even when comments often have post-length!)

            Thank you for everything:-) Enjoy your hiatus.

    1. I either meant “less verbal” or “more nonverbal” but even when I saw your note here it took me a minute to figure out why what I’d written wasn’t correct. Thank you for pointing it out. All fixed now.

  21. Come to think, it would be very useful if everybody wrote a post like this, sharing their “executive systems” in a neat way, for others to pick & chose elements they think will work for them too.

  22. In the past, I often got comments on how disciplined I was. I never knew how to respond to that, it was obvious to me that I needed set routines to get things done. Now that the children are gone and after a period of upheaval in my life, I am considering to try again to find a paid help for cleaning the house because I have lost it completely how to get that done in a satisfying way. The nice lady that I had when the children were young taught me quite a lot of things and her coming would always be preceeded by clearing away the worst jumble. The concrete help your text provided me that I wouldn’t have to have someone each week, every other week would do nicely. And I would not have to tolerate a person in our house each week! How come I did not have such a simple idea?

    A lot less verbal: I find that I am much more patient with myself in the mornings now, especially when I’m at home with the Expert – he knows that I don’t like to speak – two or three hours easily pass after waking up before I might utter the first word of the day whereas he often needs to tell me things, well, he just gets little inarticulate noises for answers. In the evening, the process goes in reverse: I’m the last to shut my mouth.

    You should be very proud of yourself for having taken the decision to take a holiday from your blog! I wish you all the best!

    1. I get all sorts of compliments on how efficient and well organized I am, but it’s really a matter of survival.

      Paying someone to clean twice a month is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I look at it as an EF support and twice a week seems plenty. I can keep up with spot vacuuming and wiping up in the kitchen/bathroom between the major cleanings. And yes, having someone in the house every other week is only half as stressful as every week. 😀

      I’m the opposite. I usually start out the day overexcited and rambly and sort of fizzle as the day goes on. By lunch time my husband is lucky if he gets grunts in response. Dinners are very . . . contemplative and we usually read or watch TV before bed, which doesn’t require verbal interaction. Hmmmm, I’d never quite thought about my day in this way, so thank you for that and thank you for the good wishes.

  23. Everything in writing – oh definitely! I work on the basis that if I write everything down then it doesn’t need to float around in my head. And if my head isn’t full of ‘stuff’ then I’m more relaxed. Plus, if it’s written down then I’m not forgetting it and trying desperately to remember – like when I was standing in the shop yesterday, knowing that there was something else to buy but not managing to work out what – guess who had decided against making a shopping list! (It was squash by the way – I remembered when I took the last bottle out of the cupboard in the afternoon)
    I have a long to-do list in Outlook – one list for recurring personal items (birthdays, insurance renewals etc.), one for recurring business items (client year-end, filing dates etc.) and a list for one-off items (or where it was recurring and I’ve given it a specific slot e.g. client’s year end is 31 March and I’ve created an entry to prepare the accounts on 30 April (and ticked the recurring entry as complete until next year). Outlook very kindly merges these lists into one big task list for me. And I can colour-code them according to whether they’re client work, my business, private, birthday reminders, things relating to the house or my pets etc. I tend to plan my year in advance as much as I can (that sounds sad but enjoy it!) – I like the relative certainty and knowing when I’m going to be busy and when I’m going to be free. And being able to tick it off makes me feel like I’ve achieved something (though ticking off on a hand-written list is more satisfying)
    I don’t tend to use the calendar function or give things time slots just because I’ve tried it and got overloaded and confused. If I know something important is due to happen at a particular point then I’m usually too wound up or aware for there to be any chance of missing it. Sadly the same can’t be said for remembering food in the oven or cups of tea sitting in the kitchen waiting to be drunk! Particularly if I get engrossed with reading / replying to posts on here!!
    Recurring items on Outlook can be handy when you’re trying to get into the habit of doing something regularly (though often it’s too easy to delete them because you’re not in the mood!). Though obviously you need to look at it – I’m okay because I work at my pc (in theory) so it’s there most of the time.
    I’ve got a whiteboard but I couldn’t get into the habit of using it regularly for reminders but I use it a lot for brain-storming when I know I’m stressed about things and can’t get my head straight – then I’ll offload my brain contents onto the board and can give tasks slots in Outlook. You can buy rolls of ‘whiteboard’ paper (plasticky stuff you can write on and rub off) that you can stick on the wall – they stay on with static and you can peel them off again without any damage.
    I used to use post-it notes a lot but these days having them all over would actually stress me out because I like clean tidy spaces. I need to only have one job on my desk at a time or I’ll be visually-overdosed. But I do use visual reminders – I’ll put things on the kitchen worktop to remind me; or on the stairs if they need to be taken back up again.
    I have created spreadsheets for checklists of steps I have to take on jobs for clients but I find that I forget (or can’t be bothered) to use them. There’s obviously something about them I don’t like which mentally stops me using them. If I don’t enjoy something then I’m scuppered before I begin.
    Everything in my office (including private paperwork) is scanned onto my pc. I don’t like having bits of paper around – more clutter. I have a filing system on the pc which relies on a mix of letters and numbers (e.g. A001) and then a description (and sometimes if relevant a date) and everything is slotted into the right folder on the pc i.e. the user manual for my camera would be X003 Camera User Guide and it would be stored in the X003 folder under a sub folder called Home and a sub-sub folder called User Guides (and I’ve probably bored everyone rigid by now – ah the Aspie joy of rabbiting on about something important to you!)
    I think maybe I’ll pause here and come back to it – just in case I’m responsible for a large proportion of the ASD community all falling asleep at the same time. And I’m feeling stressed because having been really brave and rung up the mental health team to see why I’ve not heard about an appointment (they said a waiting list of 16-18 weeks and it’s been 23 weeks and I’m worrying that the post office has lost it etc.) they’ve all gone home already (at c3pm on a Friday afternoon) and so I’ve had to leave a message with the receptionist and now have to wait for them to call me back some time (presumably Monday). And I hate phone calls! Sod the diet – this calls for fairy cakes or similar.

    1. Writing things down to get them out of my head is something I do too. If I’m afraid I’ll forget something, I’ll perseverate on it like nuts until I write it down. It also helps to write down things that are bugging me so I can set them aside and come back to them later.

      I’m envious of your scanning system. I’ve always wanted to do something like that with all of my paper but just never got around to getting it set up. I have a good scanner, but a serious lack of start-up motivation. Please do come back and share more of your strategies! I got a lot out of reading them and I’m sure there are others who would benefit. The more variety of strategies here, the more likely readers will hit on things that work for them!

      Definitely you deserve treats! Not hearing back about appointments after a long wait is so frustrating. I hope they get back to you on Monday and arrange something. I recently discovered that I wasn’t getting any callbacks from a bunch of doctors because my GP had given everyone the wrong area code for my phone number and they were all leaving messages on some other poor person’s phone then wondering why no one called back. So sometimes making that “what’s going on?” phone call is critical to getting things back on track and good for you for doing it even though it was so stressy.

  24. Just a quick addition on executive function strategies. My friends and colleagues probably think I don’t have too much problem with this, because I have a long-standing set of hacks! I started making lists when I was in my teens to deal with insomnia caused by going over and over things in my head. My list has everything from quick jobs like phone calls and bills, to major goals like house renovation. That way everything is captured on the list and I can usually find a task to make progress on whatever my mood. Also I definitely need to break tasks down into smaller, less challenging bits.

    This might also be the only place I can share a slightly odd visual reminder that I used in a previous job. I had a small LEGO set of a wizard that I kept on my desk. He had various accessories including a book, a wand, a goblet and a parrot. I used to rearrange him to remind me to focus on my main priority for the day – if he had the book, I needed to focus on documents, spreadsheets and details – the goblet meant I needed to be more social, go check up on my team – the wand meant I needed to put on my best act, be confident and assertive and deal with management or difficult people (like all ‘magic’ this took a of energy!) – the parrot meant I needed to de-stress, get out of the office and reconnect with the world outside. It did actually help me, and fortunately it was a creative kind of company where it was OK to have LEGO on your desk.

  25. First off have a lovely break away from blogging. Recharging is important. Switching off. Bliss.
    I am so inspired by everyone’s methods of order. I hope to scan my paper so I can deal with it better.
    I feel so far behind from our move that I don’t know where to start on the paper clutter. I am faking it at being organised at the moment. I know I can’t pull this off for much longer. I used to be so organised. I usually start a system and then find it gets so complicated that working out the system defeats the purpose of why I established it in the first place. I will look at Todoist free version and give it a trial. With HabitRPG for fun now, just started using it recently. Also I use Apple’s Calendar.

    1. Thank you for the good wishes.

      Moving is so hard. It takes me months to recover fully from a move. Often the best place to start with paper is to simply sort it into “trash, keep and act on” piles so you can feel some sense of preliminary order. But even getting that far can be hard if you’re feeling out of sorts because of a major change like moving. Good luck with finding something that works for you and be kind to yourself in the mean time.

      1. Thank you! You still haven’t stayed away!
        I will take your kind words of advice. It’s just getting started that I find hard just now.
        Do not reply! Enjoy your break away. 🙂

  26. I found this post via the facebook page of the Research Institute for Learning and Development. I use many of these same strategies, and learned some new ones I will be trying soon for myself and my EF-challenged son. What I really liked reading was your perspective of why you employ these particular strategies… it shows a lot of self-reflection and awareness, and I learned much from that as well. Thank you for this post, and enjoy your hiatus! 🙂

  27. Holy crap! Blog looks nice, I almost jumped out of my seat though. Guess it’s that whole aspies and change thing, but I’ll get used to it. 🙂

    1. Oh golly gosh, change indeed! I’m glad I was sitting down 🙂
      Reminds me of when (a good few years ago) a then colleague had her hair permed and went from being dead straight (sadly only her hair) to very frizzy. Someone else asked me (in her hearing) what I thought of it. My ‘not quite as tactful as I hope I’d manage these days though I’m not convinced’ reply – “it’s weird”. I sincerely hope she wasn’t offended and I did, sort of, get used to it eventually. So I guess my opinion of the site change is “it’s different, I think I think the font and the overall colour scheme / layout sort of thingy is kind of okay and quite pleasant, I’ll get back to you on the fact that everything has swapped sides and my brain is going ‘changed, oh no, it’s changed!'”!!
      Okay, maybe I still need to work on the giving opinions part 🙂

  28. Commented on the *nice* new layout with its comforting colors already in an older post. And do hope that there is enough time for your recreation?! So that you can return sparkling with new ideas?!

    Nonetheless, to executive function.

    Lists, lists of lists, post it notes, of course I am using them all, to convert at least some plans into action. Over the last few years, however, mainly with the advent of cloud drives, I developed a habit which I did not find mentioned so far and wonder if anybody else has related experiences? My question also should apply to aficionados of Todoist and related apps. On second thought, maybe even more so.

    Do you ever get overwhelmed by the tumor-like growth of your ‘List-for-Everything-Else’? Irrespective of the medium used?

    I mean, like every sensible autist I have nice little short-lived lists for shopping, household or gardening. But! *The* list with its chapters, sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters, covering books to read, lecture plans for 2016, YouTube links to (re)visit, an idea for a present for youngest daughter’s birthday in 10 months, blahblah … has expanded to 24 pages again – if it would be printed – within a year or so. It developed from cute little thing into nagging beast. And, like last year, again, a month ago the beast started to sprout a new list at the top page, containing the *really* urgent or cool stuff. Last week, the new one grew its first branches for ‘work’, ‘private’, and ‘ideas’.

    Eventually the old one will become less important and eventually disappear into oblivion. For writing this comment I looked up the grand-grand-parent of the current sprout: It does not resonate any more. In other words, I am living in continuum of evolving ‘Main-Lists-for-Everything’ of more or less constant size which personally I find quite comforting.

    P.S. on executive function improvement: despite best intentions to be more concentrated I managed to spill (at least part of) my coffee three times last week. Sigh. 🙂

  29. Ha. I myself have been sort of taking a hiatus of sorts and doing more book reading and movie watching rather than using the Internet this past month. Funny that it’s coincidentally coincided with this blog’s hiatus.

    I use a lot of lists and notes on paper. Strewn along desk and countertops. When they become overwhelming, I consolidate, and tackle tasks. Things work well for me when it’s clear what needs to be done today, what needs to be done imminently, and what is long range.

    I love paper and mechanical pencils and pens and erasers to the point of special interest, so it’s pleasant for me to write notes and lists and reminders physically. When else am I going to get to use them now that everything else is done electronically?

  30. I just found this post today because of a referral from the Facebook page for “A Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism”. I cannot begin to tell you how helpful and timely it is. My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s and bipolar disorder, but not until his teens. His executive functioning issues have baffled and challenged us since long before then.

    All of it was informative. But your explanation about the dishes is especially valuable, as that’s been a battle for years. I can’t wait to spend more time on your site.

  31. Okay, in college now. My problem is now that I procrastinate doing any work way too much, and I don’t know how to set false deadlines, especially because I’ve living by the week to keep myself through.

    1. Are there student support services at your university? There aught to be someone who will help you structure your time and manage your work, either with regular meetings or a one off depending on what you need. If there isn’t, there may be a friendly lecturer who’d be able to help. Or for specific assignments ask for interim deadlines with the levturer who set it . The trick is to work out what to ask for before talking to them.
      I was always completely lost during the first semester, then flew around catching up in the second but it worked out well in the end.
      Good luck and I hope it gets easier!

      1. Yeah, there are plenty of support services. There is both a disability accommodation program which I’m using and every freshman get’s a mentor as well.

    2. The adjustment to college is rough on just about everyone, but even more so when you have EF difficulties. Can you ask your mentor to help you set some false/interim deadlines to help you stay on track? Then you would be accountable to someone other than yourself, at least in a small way.

  32. I’m just now getting around to reading some of these subjects indepth – so my reply here is probably irrelevant now – but I’ll make the contribution anyway …
    Im so intrigued & interested in how much alike we think & do …
    Im also self-employeed – but not extremely profitable, tho’ many in my field are … I have to attack everything with notes & lists, and work very hard to organize my errands and my lists efficiently – and then forget to look at them … often writing things down will produce a mental picture – but that depends on how many DIFFERENT things I have to do – which is usually a lot.
    In anaylizing myself, I realize I am not near as efficient at being efficient as I used to be. I go thru periods of not caring (depression, mental fatigue I suppose) which causes a terrible ‘bottle-neck’ & backed-up congestion on the freeway if my life which adds to more depression.
    The great paradox, as I think on these things, and try to work out the kinks of productivity is …. here I am a person who can hear 2-3 conversations going, glean the facts, while running a spinning rolex of images created by every word I hear, utilizing needed info, skipping or re-storing info (indirectly related to immediated subject) – I am typically a detail person – seeing & doing things that most people dont notice – but then here I am a person who can not seem to get a grip on planning … ?
    I can mentally outline tasks and do them, or write out plans. The unforseens can throw me off – a random customer stopping by, or a broken tool. I have a hard time – ‘picking up where I left off’ my course gets redirected into a wall. I sort of am immobilized bc I HAD this all planned out perfectly and this unforseen event locked a cog that is very difficult to get moving again.
    I have to concentrate VERY hard. With my efficient list, no serious concentration was involved. Just do.

    How is it possible to be so proficient in so many obvious & ways (unseen by others) and be so deficient in so many obvious and unsee-able ways . . . ?

  33. This is a great list! I have extremely horrible EF (stares at plummeting grades) I dont think I could do the visual and organisational stuff though because I only have a bed and a small amount of dresser-top (most is used up by my tv) in the room I share with my younger sister (who has an extreme amount of possessions) but when school starts up Ill definitely use some of the other tips! //I usually colour code my stuff even if I never take notes and most of my papers end up crumpled together in my bag//

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