Schoolwork is a chore for anyone, but it's a whole lot harder to do when you have executive dysfunction. If you're unfamiliar with the term, according to LD Online, executive functioning is "a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal." It involves time management, focus, organization, memory, multitasking and more. Executive dysfunction, on the other hand, is when it's very difficult or almost impossible to perform these processes. This is a trait of ADHD and autism, as well as other functioning-related disorders. But since the majority of students don't have to deal with this, schoolwork is not designed with affected students in mind, especially as you go onto higher levels of education such as high school and college. So how exactly can you get around it? Here are eight tips to help you out:
1. Choose a consistent place to study.
First things first, you have to choose a place to study. It's best to keep your number of study spots as minimal as possible, and they should ideally be a place where you do nothing else besides homework. After enough repetition, your brain should get to a place where it goes into study mode once you get there. When picking a spot, keep things in mind like the noise level, the space to change seating position or walk around, being able to talk out loud, or anything else that may be relevant to your productivity.
2. Use software to block distractions.
I know, blocking distractions is the first thing everyone hears. They tell you to use some noise-canceling headphones, go to the bathroom beforehand and all those things. While those are useful pieces of advice, the internet can be a huge distraction as well. You can put your phone away while you work, but if you need to use your laptop, there's infinitely more pressure to browse social media or really do anything except your homework. I use the software Cold Turkey Blocker to block out these distractions, but any kind of actual software is better than relying on self-control alone.
3. Don't be afraid to take up the space you need.
If you need to walk around, do it. If you need to sit in a really weird position, do it. If you need to stim, do it. You are allowed to take up space you need to succeed. If you're worried about other people judging you, then find a study spot where you can do these things in peace, like a private study room. But honestly, if you're studying in a common study spot, chances are everyone else is too wrapped up in their own work to notice you. You have a right to use the same space as them, even if you use it differently.
4. Ask your teachers to give you verbal reminders.
Especially when you get to college, it's very likely that a professor will put something on the syllabus and expect you to get it done with very few (if any) reminders. But when you have executive dysfunction, even checking the syllabus can be an exhausting task. If you explain your situation and ask them to give reminders, it not only helps you succeed but strengthens your relationship with a professor you may not get to talk to otherwise. There's no guarantee they'll agree to it, but in my experience, most will. You have nothing to lose, and even just a quick "make sure to read chapter six before the next class" can make getting things done much easier.
5. Participate in a study group.
While not everyone can study with other people, it's definitely worth trying out. When you have a study group, make it a repeated commitment (ex. every Thursday at 4 PM). This commitment forces you to study the material, and then you have your peers to help explain anything you may not understand. Discussing out loud is also a great way to better understand something because your brain is more engaged rather than just reading something on your own or listening to a lecture. All it takes to start a study group is to ask the people sitting around you or even posting on your class Facebook page to see if anyone else is in the class.
6. Use questions to engage yourself.
If you're reading a generic textbook (like for STEM), then you probably have review questions at the end of each section. Answer those questions, and if you can't recall the answers right away then try to find them in the text. Write down the answers and repeat them out loud. For books that don't have questions included, search the title of the book online with "discussion questions" or "study questions" to see if someone else made any. Use the same process as before for these questions. If you've done everything you can to find questions but none are showing up, go to your teacher and ask if they would be able to write comprehension questions. Questions can help with executive dysfunction because they directly prompt you to engage, and that extra push can help you to finally get your study on.
7. Break everything up into individual steps.
It can be so easy to say "I have to write a paper" and think you can just jump off from there. But you have to choose a topic, look up related reading, make a list of evidence from the reading, make an outline, write each paragraph, etc. This is actually a lot of steps rolled into one deceivingly "simple" task, so it's okay to get worn out from it. Choose which ones you want to work on, and then add in the steps to get it done. You walk to your study spot, turn on your distraction blocker, open/start your document, do one of the aforementioned tasks and so on. Seeing so many tasks at once may seem overwhelming at first glance, but it actually helps you get things done more efficiently and get a sense of what you still need to accomplish. It also creates mini-deadlines of sorts, and this newfound urgency to complete smaller tasks makes it easier to just do get it done.
8. See if you can receive any accommodations.
If you have an official diagnosis for something ADHD, autism or another functioning-related disorder, there's a pretty good chance you can receive accommodations from your school's disability office. If you're not officially diagnosed, it can still be worth it to make an appointment with them and discuss your situation to see if they would let you qualify. Either way, if you can get accommodations then you should take advantage of them! This may include extra time on tests, extra time to complete assignments or private study rooms. I recommend asking for a designated notetaker, so you can concentrate on processing lecture information rather than just writing it down (which you may not even have the energy to do in the first place).
Executive dysfunction is different for everybody who has it, and not all of these tips may work for you. But if you try them out, you can start to notice your strengths and weaknesses. And when you have a really bad executive functioning day, don't beat yourself up. Always strive to do your best, and some days that means just waiting it out.