As a speech pathologist I work on improving executive function skills with individuals who have difficulty in organization and focus. With many of my clients who feel they are never on top of the tasks they must complete, I often advise making a “To Do” list, along with other organizational strategies. Writing a concrete set of goals for a given time period (a week, a day, etc.), generally helps people stay on task and not lose sight of what they must accomplish. However, along with creating a list like this, the process of prioritizing remains critically important. This is where many people veer into trouble: the “To Do” list that becomes an even bigger headache.
What does it mean to prioritize? If you feel overwhelmed by what you need to do for work, family or your personal life, creating a list of what must be accomplished remains one of the best strategies to ensure that you’re productive. But prioritizing is more than just deciding what should be done and in what order; prioritizing requires time management, a skill that often causes difficulty all by itself.
Overplanning, by not considering what can be accomplished in a given time period, can sabotage anyone’s efforts to become organized and productive. Writing an unrealistic list of items often becomes one of the most self-defeating activities for someone with executive function problems. If the “To Do” list becomes a set of dream goals, not realistically attainable, you set in motion an even worse spiral of not getting anything done.
How to deal with this? I advise long-range and short-range planning: deciding what must be done each day and making that list a “do-able list,” not an impossible dream. As you take care of it, scratch it off, or if it carries over, put it on the next day’s agenda. Group these tasks into a realistic time frame: today, tomorrow, next week, or even the month. If you have long-range goals, leave room in the daily or weekly agenda and slot in time periods to begin working on these longer projects. But consider how long tasks should take so you don’t push off long projects and end up frantically working on them at the last minute.
I am often asked, “Will this help me multi-task?” Creating a realistic “To Do” list by prioritizing, setting attainable goals and considering your available time, can make you more efficient and perhaps bring you closer to the 21st century dream of multi-tasking. Whether or not multi-tasking is attainable or a desirable skill remains a large question, one that I’ll be writing about in the future.
Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, communciations and speech.