Dec 042017
 
  • Are you frequently late for meetings or appointments in spite of your best intentions?

  • Have you ever waited for someone who never seems to be on time?

  • Whether you spend time waiting for someone who is always late or you’re the person who can’t be on time, the result is frustration on both sides.

People who can never manage to be on time rarely plan to be late.  Most people who are chronically late have difficulty in time management: one could say their clocks are broken.

Children rely on parents and teachers to keep them on time.  This scaffolding sometimes extends into the teenage years.  As adults, personal management of one’s time is an assumed skill.  However, as with organization and prioritization, time management for some individuals remains a struggle, sometimes a lifetime challenge.
 
Time management is an important skill within the larger domain of executive function skills.  Executive functioning represents a set of processes that govern how one manages oneself and one’s resources to achieve a goal. These cognitive, behavioral skills impact on mental control and self-regulation. 
 
Individuals who find it hard to organize themselves often have trouble managing their time.  From small things, forgetting keys or a wallet, paying bills on time, to completing a task like finishing a report, these behaviors fall into the larger skill set of executive functioning.  For some people, the difficulty of managing one’s time is closely linked to other important skills like prioritization and self regulation.
 
The person who has a problem with timeliness may often be challenged by predicting the amount of time he or she needs, usually underestimating or failing to anticipate obstacles that will make them late.  Lack of focusing and remaining on task can further sabotage the goal of being on time.
 
To further complicate matters, prioritizing, the ability to evaluate goals or tasks and decide on the order to accomplish these tasks can also make someone misjudge time.  The person who gets side-tracked because of poor prioritizing may find it necessary to spend more time finishing a task, underestimate the time he or she needs, and arrive late.  If this scenario sounds like a domino effect, in many cases, that’s the way it happens.
  •  Is this a hopeless chain of events?

The “broken clock,” effective time management, can be improved by developing a set of executive function skills that include: organization and planning, prioritization, focus, and self regulation.  While these skills are closely linked, fortunately some people have difficulties in some areas, but not all.  

Working with a professional who can unravel your problems in executive functioning and develop the necessary skills can lead to better time management and self regulation: fixing the broken clock.

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Check back soon for more articles on executive functioning, communications, speech pathology and writing.

 
Dec 152016
 
  • Do children outgrow difficulties with inattention, focus & hyperactivity?
  • Is medication the cure for these problems in childhood?

When a child is diagnosed with inattention, distractibility, with or without hyperactivity,  parents are often faced with a series of concerns.  Will these problems interfere with academic performance?  Will medication help?  Is another treatment needed besides medicine?

The answer to all 3 questions is yes, but in differing degrees.  

Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without hyperactivity, is documented to interfere with learning.  Children who suffer from ADD but exhibit no hyperactivity may go undiagnosed for several years because they suffer quietly and often “fall off the radar” in a classroom where behavior problems claim more of the teacher’s attention.  Well-behaved students may look as if they’re focusing but may have problems following directions, making transitions in activities and switching between topics.

Medication to treat these problems needs to be a parental decision after consultation with professionals and often includes examination of a student’s cognitive functioning and language skills.  Many students have been helped by medication that reduces their distractibility.  However, in my experience medication alone is not the panacea that parents and students would like to believe.

The most effective way to treat ADD & ADHD is to raise the child or adolescent’s awareness of his thinking and focus, and provide strategies to re-direct attention to the task of the moment.  Becoming aware of one’s thinking is called “metacognition” and provides a critical tool for self regulation and self modification.  Metacognition remains a cornerstone to developing executive function skills, which are essential for organization, planning, prioritization and focus.  The current practice of “mindfulness” intersects with metacognition in the goal of “being in the moment” and reducing distractions.  Even young children can be taught to become aware of their distracting thoughts and refocus their thinking.  

Poor executive function skills resulting from ADD and ADHD can affect academic performance throughout formal schooling, including college and graduate school.  Unfortunately most children and teenagers don’t “grow” out of their problems with cognitive functioning.  The most successful ones either receive support services or therapy to develop the skills to keep themselves on task and focused.

Adults, whether diagnosed or not, can find these problems impacting on their careers throughout their lives, often resulting in unfilled potential and goals.  Medication can assist adults in focus and attention, but does not “cure” problems that result in poor organization, time management and distractibility.  At the adult level it remains essential (as for younger individuals) to develop metacognitive strategies and effective executive function skills.  Speech pathologists trained in this area are frequently the professionals who provide therapy to assist children and adults with ADD and ADHD.  Intervention at any age can make a profound change in a person’s life.

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Check back soon for more articles on executive function, speech pathology, effective speaking skills and writing.

 

 

Jun 022015
 
  • Are the 3 r’s,”reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic” the basics of what one needs to know?

For many years, educators have emphasized “the 3 r’s” as the cornerstone of skills students must have for academic success.  While these remain critical skills, the fourth part of the cornerstone has rarely been given appropriate focus but remains essential for students and later in adulthood. Speaking, the other half of reading/writing, remains a neglected skill in education — but has major significance for students and adults.

Acquiring the ability to find words to express oneself, string them together in phrases and sentences, and articulate these complex sounds with the standard production within one’s spoken language is a process we take for granted.  Only when the process becomes disrupted do we question what is truly a miraculous feature of the human brain and nervous system.

When children have difficulty with developing speech and language — for a variety of reasons — we may come to understand how unique speaking is among all the living species.  So too, only when an adult has an injury or illness that disrupts the normal process of speech and language do we come to realize that these are skills usually taken for granted.

  • What about healthy, educated adults who find expressing themselves difficult?

To those individuals who have difficulty speaking — especially where they’re being judged or evaluated — it may appear that everyone else speaks fluently and easily.  This isn’t the reality, however.  More people have difficulty expressing their thoughts in formal settings than they will admit.  Adding to the pressure to speak well, the contexts for speaking/presenting occur more frequently as one progresses up the professional ladder.

  • Do poor speaking and/or writing skills make a difference in a world where technical knowledge remains most important?

In my practice I have worked with educated, intelligent individuals who need to express their ideas to clients and present their work in public forums.  Even further, they need to create reports and written documents to summarize and illustrate their expertise.

The critical abilities for organizing information and presenting in front of other professionals in a variety of contexts becomes a stumbling block for many people seeking professional development.  The link between the organization of material — focusing on key features (critical for any presentation) — and making a strong verbal presentation involves both writing and speaking skills.

  • Even in our technologically-oriented world, the twin verbal skills of speaking and writing remain critical life skills.

It seems clear that in the 21st century, the “3’r’s” need to be modified to the cornerstone of “3 plus 1”: “reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and speaking.”  Technology has become an important tool for information management and presentation, but the spoken/written word remains essential.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, writing, speech pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 152014
 

What is more important: how you deliver your message or what you have to say?

Most people would say that the content of a presentation is the critical concern and delivery holds secondary importance.  Is it 80/20?  Could it be 50/50?  Or even 20/80?  Professionals in corporate communications and public speaking coaches debate the relative importance of three key factors in an effective presentation: content, tone and body language.

A recent controversy arose online among communication professionals about the critical percentages of words, tone and body language in a speech.  Clearly everyone agrees that words alone will not suffice in a presentation.  Public speakers need to consider the effect of their intonation, gestures and physical presence.

In my work with clients I stress the point that content — words and ideas — will be only as effective as the dialogue a speaker establishes between him/herself and the audience.  With this idea in mind, is it surprising that intonation and body language hold such importance in the estimation of communication professionals?

What are the critical elements in establishing the dialogue between speaker and audience?  Good speakers know they must establish a rapport between themselves and the individuals in their audience.  Note I said “individuals.”  An audience may consist of ten, a hundred or even a thousand people, but a good speaker considers them as individuals and tries to connect through intonation, tone and gesture.  The best public speakers are those who possess “charisma,” which comes from making a connection with the members of the audience.

Charismatic speakers display self confidence by using a natural voice, appropriate hand gestures, and body language to draw the audience to the speaker, instead of making a separation between them.

So when planning a speech or presentation of any kind, take time to consider and practice what you will say.  Remember, you may be an expert in your field but your effectiveness will be measured by how well you communicate what you know.  Your delivery has to connect with the individuals in the audience to make your efforts worthwhile.  While there may be no universal percentages, effective presentation skills as well as knowledge of your content remain critical to establishing the dialogue between you and your listeners.

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Check back soon for more ideas on effective speaking, communications and speech pathology.

 

 

 

Jan 152014
 

Ever try to write an essay, report or important letter and find yourself frustrated?

In my work with students and adults (of all educational backgrounds), I find a nearly universal theme — how difficult many people find the writing process.  This may be partly due to the differences between our less organized, less specific speech and what is expected in written text.

Some of the frustrations I hear:

“I don’t know where to start?”

“I don’t seem to be able to get to the point.”

“What I write never looks as good the next day.”

These are frequent issues people raise, difficulties even professional writers face at times.

One of the keys to being a good writer is organization:  Consider what you want to say and plan your writing before you begin.

I’ve written about strategies for planning and organization in previous articles on “being an effective speaker” and some of the points I raised in these entries apply here as well.  You may want to read two of my previous blog articles: “#1 Tip for Making a Good Presentation, ” Part 1 and Part 2.

Consider your purpose:  What is the point of your piece, or in academic terms, what is your thesis statement?

Once you’ve jotted down the idea in one or two clearly written sentences, consider the key points or information that supports your main idea.

Make an outline:  This is your map, your guide.  You can change the outline (and your thesis) if you find the writing moves in another direction.  Sometimes it’s the actual process of writing that helps us figure out what we’re really trying to say.

Be willing to write drafts:  Rarely is our first attempt our finished product.  Most people need to edit for sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Proofread out loud:  While annoying, this is the best way to catch errors and to be sure you’ve written what you intended, not just what’s in your mind.

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Check back soon for more specific thoughts about drafts and proofreading techniques for writing, as well as articles on speech and language, communications and executive functioning.

 

 

 

Dec 052013
 

“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.

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Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function, speech and language and communication skills.

Aug 082013
 

Books, papers, electronics strewn across the desk, clothes on the floor, room like a danger zone…  Does it mean anything?

If your middle school or high school student lives in a state of disarray, frequently forgetting papers or textbooks in the school locker, or the finished assignment on the kitchen table, disorganization might be indicative of a problem that’s more than adolescent carelessness.

Executive functioning involves the management of oneself or one’s resources to achieve a goal.  It consists of behavioral skills that impact on mental control and self regulation.  To some degree the external organization of our possessions can reflect the internal management of our thinking.

When a student has difficulty keeping track of his or her belongings — books, papers, clothes, money, keys, cell phone, clothing — the cause may not be solely adolescent sloppiness.   For some students, just getting through the day may be a reflection of a larger problem of self monitoring and self regulation.

Is this always the case?  Not necessarily.  Some students, some adults for that matter, aren’t neat and organized.  But when a student has difficulty in planning tasks, allocating sufficient time for assignments, organizing his or her life to achieve required goals, the external disorganization might be a clue to what’s going on mentally.

Dealing effectively with deadlines, time requirements, and mental transitions requires a set of skills that must begin during childhood and mature with age.  The development of strong executive functioning carries over for success later in life.

Can a parent fix the problem?  Assisting with organization and planning skills can be valuable but parents often end up doing too much and the student may not develop the skills required for independent thinking.   Intervention with a professional skilled in cognitive training may be a more effective way to help your student develop a set of critical life skills.

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Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, speech and communications

 

Jul 302013
 

In our fast-paced, electronic-driven society, our minds race from idea to idea, our eyes flit between computer screen, cellphone and tablet.  Nearly every active person, teenager through adult, feels the pressure to pay attention to more than one thing at a time — to multitask.  Performing multiple things at a time has become the skill to master in the 21st century.

But does multitasking even exist?

From the 1990’s to the present, research has questioned whether the human brain can perform more than one task at a time, whether it is possible to learn new material while engaging in multiple mental activities simultaneously.  Cutting edge scientific studies indicate that the brain cannot perform multiple tasks simultaneously, even with extensive training.

So what really happens when we try to multitask?

Current theories on cognition (the basis for executive functioning) support the idea that our brains are constantly switching, pausing and refocusing continuously as we move from task to task.  In reality we don’t pay attention to two or more things simultaneously but switch between them rapidly.

Are we gaining anything from this rapid mental activity?

Studies show that switching from task to task in the attempt to multitask results in far greater errors.  On top of that, research has proven that this switching takes far longer — sometimes twice as long– as compared to working on tasks sequentially.

Do we lose anything from trying to multitask?

Consider one mental activity that is linked to multitasking:  continuous partial attention, a process that involves skimming the surface of data and picking out relevant information before moving to the next idea.  When you engage in continuous partial attention, you study information at a superficial level.  By continuously shifting and refocusing your attention, you become accustomed to skimming but not studying anything in detail.

The drive to do more than one mental activity at a time seems to reduce our ability to focus and complete tasks thoroughly, as well as making it take longer.  By trying to do more than one task at a time, we actually impair our cognitive ability to maintain focus.

So why try to do more than one thing at a time and end up not doing anything well?

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Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, speech and communications.

 

 

 

 

Jul 012013
 

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.

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Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, communciations and speech.

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 092013
 

Tune into Peter Moses’ radio show on WVOX 1460 AM,  Monday, June 10, 2013 at 3 P.M.  I’ll be interviewed by Jen Ross, owner of Watercooler, a co-working space on Main Street in Tarrytown.  We’ll be talking about my work as a speech and communications coach as well as other aspects of my practice as a speech-language pathologist.

I’ll be taking questions from listeners so feel free to call into the program.