Executive functioning, broadly taken to mean the independent, intentional behaviors that arise from skills in goal setting, planning, organizing and executing, is often overlooked by students and educators interested in improving their overall academic performance. Ironically, numerous studies, both qualitative and quantitative, have shown time and again that executive functioning skills are directly related to academic performance and that improvements in executive functioning result in broad scholastic improvements, whether it be in terms of grades or the quality of teacher-student relationships. These findings are replicated for students of all ages and backgrounds. The end result of the lack of attention paid to executive functioning despite its significance is that mature high school and college students are left struggling with complex assignments and without the skills and resources to improve.
One of the first obstacles to obtaining sound executive functioning advice is the fact that, until recently, it’s largely been an academic term used in circles of PhDs, psychologists, neurologists and doctors. When it comes to students, on the other hand, executive functioning skills are linked to strong academic characteristics such as organization, developed study habits, and time management skills. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child published a report that found that students with high levels of executive functioning skills were better able to “remember and follow multi-step instructions, avoid distractions, control rash response, adjust when rules change, persist at problem solving and manage long-term assignments than their peers with lower levels of executive functioning skills.” If students exhibited these traits in high school and college, they were more likely to carry them into the professional and social lives as well.
It may seem like the steps towards improving your executive functioning skills are a closely guarded secret, especially if you look online. Finding good information is like finding a needle in the haystack, and you don’t need professional guidance to make your first inroads on your executive functioning journey. Perhaps the most important, and easiest to start learning, is higher-order organization. Many students persistently claim that they can keep all of their deadlines and assignments organized in their head, and while that may be true for a time, it’s not only unsustainable but also inefficient.
Why dedicate so much energy to keeping track of everything mentally, when you can offload the work, and likelihood of error, by using a simple calendar? Whether you prefer old-fashioned paper or a digital version, you can start keeping a calendar today. Once you’ve gotten in the habit of recording your nightly assignments, you can begin adding reminders for long-term assignments and planning for upcoming tests well in advance. Eventually you’ll be able to build on these skills to start blocking out your time. One of the beauties of developing executive functioning habits is that they compound on one another as you improve.
Keeping a calendar also has spillover effects into developing time management skills, and is at the center of most academic executive functioning strategies. Another quick tip for maximizing the executive functioning benefits of keeping a calendar is scheduling work breaks rather than spontaneously taking them. It may take time to get used to, but scheduling breaks will help you keep yourself focused and accountable during work periods and incentivizes you to plan ahead.
Setting up a calendar is just the first of many steps towards improving your executive functioning, but if you follow through you’ll find that the academic toolbox is better equipped than ever. And as always, feel free to reach out to Bloom for support in achieving your goals!
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