I found myself staring at my desk in the office last week – papers piled on one side, and an array of stationery items and books scattered across the other (not to mention the stack of ‘to do’ paperwork on the shelf beside).
I knew I had to sort it all out but the sense of being overwhelmed from ‘where to begin’ was huge and so I turned away from it all and went to make a cup of tea.
It was whilst I was drinking my tea and trying not to think about what I had to face on my desk (while at the same time beating myself up on the inside about the fact that I was procrastinating) that I had a realisation.
I wasn’t procrastinating. I was facing an executive functioning challenge.
Executive functioning, as a most basic explanation, relates to how we organise, plan and regulate ourselves. It can be about how we manage the transition from one task to another, how we keep track of things, and how we know what order to do things in.
My problem, when I looked at it properly, was not that I was simply putting off the task of sorting out my desk. My problem was that I didn’t know where to begin, or how to tackle the task in a way that I could effectively ‘step things out’, organise my paperwork and stationery, and make choices about what I no longer needed.
The realisation was in some ways a relief – particularly as I sat and mentally reflected on all the times throughout my life where I thought procrastination had been my choice, but instead it was that I hadn’t had a simple or clear enough plan to be able to work through my executive functioning challenges.
Could this be the case for you, when you know that a task has to be done but you just can’t do it? (Cleaning the house or doing the grocery shopping?)
Or could this be the case for your child or student who appears to be lazy or who seems to put things off? (School projects not being done or messy bedrooms not being cleaned?)
When we begin to look at the problem through the lense of executive functioning, we then change the script to one of ‘how can we work this out’ as opposed to ‘come on, hurry up and get it done’. When we acknowledge that sometimes some of us need support to tackle what seem like simple tasks, we change the landscape of guilt and blame to one of ‘let’s find a way to help’.
So my job for today is to create a plan for myself, that gives me a system of how to tackle my desk. It will be about creating steps to follow and having a back up person on standby to help me through anything that I stumble with.
And I challenge you to think about how you can remove the guilt and blame from your own thoughts, or find a way to support your own child or student with an organisation or sorting task that they may be struggling with too.
Procrastination or Executive Functioning Challenge? Change the way you think about it, and you’ll pave the way to making it better.
Written by Elissa Plumridge