“I never seem to finish what I start.”
“I run out of time so often.”
“Everyone gets there early or on time, but I’m usually late.”
These are a few of the concerns I’ve heard from clients who have difficulty managing their time, who may be stressed because they can’t accomplish what’s expected of them. Being able to organize one’s work, prioritize tasks and budget time are the cornerstone of cognitive processes called “executive function.” As one develops through childhood, adolescence and into the adult years, mastery of these skills becomes a necessary ingredient for success in school and work. Not being able to complete tasks, missing appointments or arriving late often sidetracks individuals who are otherwise intelligent, talented people. What lies underneath these functions that makes it so hard for some people?
I’ve written about these skills in some of my previous blog articles: “Why Is My ‘To Do’ List Like Chasing The Impossible Dream?” and “It Seems Everyone Can Multitask, Why Can’t I?” I invite you to read these articles as well. But there are some key points I’d like to explore further in this entry.
As we mature, the direct instruction we receive in terms of managing our time fades out: we don’t have parents or teachers who tell us where to be and when to have things completed. However, we have social, personal and employment guidelines that govern our behavior, sometimes rules more unspoken than those of earlier years but nevertheless important, even more critical in our lives.
Why do some people have so much trouble with time management? Underlying the ability to manage one’s time are important skills: being able to prioritize tasks, set realistic time frames, and make predictions based on past experience. The person who has difficulty with executive functioning falters on planning and using the skills I’ve just mentioned. Too many times poor skills in this area leads family, friends and bosses to think that an individual is lazy or inconsiderate, which is often the exact opposite of reality. The person who doesn’t manage his/her time well usually wants to be successful but doesn’t have the tools to do so.
On a positive note, these skills can be developed at any age and need to be part of every successful individual’s life. The “broken clock” can be fixed by cognitive therapy that focuses on prioritization, realistic predictability of time required for tasks, and organizational skills. Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” holds true for issues of time. Sometimes it’s not so bad being early, not cutting so close to the clock — when the unpredictable happens. But knowing how to function in order to survive Murphy’s Law remains a challenge for people with executive function difficulties. The first step is recognizing the problem, then acquiring strategies to solve it.
Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function, speech and language and communication skills.