Archive for the ‘Executive Function’ Category

Executive Functioning Building Blocks: Backwards Planning

Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to avoid procrastination and work methodically toward your goal by planning backwards.

1. Start at the end
2. Break down the final product into its component pieces.
3. Break up the work of each component over a two-week period.
4. Once you’ve plugged it all into your schedule, all you have to do is follow the steps that you’ve laid for yourself.

For more EF building blocks, check out our video about Creating a Weekly Schedule

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Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi guys, Adam S. here, Prepped and Polished., South Natick, Massachusetts.
Today we’re going to talk about another important building block in
executive functioning backward planning.

So what is backwards planning? Well, for example, if I asked you to draw an
image of a dog it would be pretty easy. Working backwards from the image in
your head you would do your best to reproduce that image of a dog on a
piece of paper.

But what if I asked you to draw a picture of an ibis? Not so easy, right?
What the heck is an ibis? You wouldn’t even know where to begin. So when
you don’t have a finished product or a picture in mind, the task can seems
pretty overwhelming. An ibis is a kind of bird, by the way. It’s a cross
between a turkey and a vulture.

The same principles can apply to academic work. When you’re first assigned
a big paper or a project, sometimes you can’t see the finish line. And the
task can feel pretty overwhelming. In fact, it can feel so overwhelming
that we never even start it. We just keep putting it off and putting it off
and putting it off until finally it’s due tomorrow. And we scramble around
frantically the night before with usually a lot of help from mom and dad.

You go through all this anxiety and frustration that’s completely
avoidable. It’s not a great way to go through school, and what’s worse is
you’re building associative memories. So next time you are assigned a big
project or a big paper all you’re going to think about is all of that
anxiety and frustration and the frantic scramble you went through last

What if I told you there’s a better way? What if instead of starting at the
beginning we decided to start at the end. Let’s go over to the white board,
and I’ll show you what I’m talking about. Say you were given an assignment
where you have to give a presentation on a leader that you admire. There’s
a speech, a paper, maybe a PowerPoint. Sounds like a lot of work, right?
It’s a pretty big project.

So where do we begin? Well, let’s start at the end. What did the end look
like? So what do we have? We have a paper. We have maybe some index cards
for your speech. There’s a PowerPoint going on in the background and
[inaudible 2:01]. Not so overwhelming, right? The question is how do we get

So that’s still a pretty big project. So let’s break it down into some
component pieces, right? So we have a paper. There’s a speech, and there’s
a PowerPoint, right? Three things. So how do we break these three things

Well, the next part is going to involve some really simple math. First, you
have to figure out how much time between now and the due date? Say it’s six
weeks, right? Six weeks between now and when this presentation is due, and
how many things do we have? Three, right? One, two, three. Six divided by
three equals two.

That means we can assign about two weeks to each one of these tasks. So
let’s go back to the schedule we talked about the last time. Now what
you’re going to want to do is take each of these guys and plug them into
spots in your schedule.

Now I know this is still pretty complicated. Don’t worry; we’re going to
have another video. I thought I’d break these guys down a little more so
you know how to write a great paper. Something that I really like to do is
to put your daily task items on sticky notes.

Say what I am going to do is research on Monday, write a rough draft on
Tuesday. That way if you get home Monday night and you really don’t feel
like doing research, that’s okay. You’re going to have to move it to
Tuesday. Now there are two things to do on Tuesday. What if you don’t feel
like doing any work on Tuesday? Well, now you have to move it all back to
Wednesday, and you can see how the work really starts to pile up.

It’s a great visual to kind of show you the cost of procrastination which I
think is great. So once you’ve plugged these guys into your schedule all
you have to do is follow the day by day stats that you’ve laid out for
yourself. Watch out for the procrastination, and you’ll reach that finish
line, no problem. You will avoid all the anxiety, stress, frustration you
may have experienced in the past.

So those are the basics of backward planning. Start at the end. Which does
the finished product look like and once you see what it looks like, ask
yourself how many pieces does it have? Then figure out how much time do you
have between now and when the project is due. Divide that time by the
number of pieces. That’s how much time to assign to each piece.

Then all you have to do is follow the schedule that you lay out for
yourself. Remember procrastination has its price. If you do these things
and reach that finish line, no problem, and pretty soon big projects will
be no big deal.

All right, guys. See you next time.

How do you currently plan for projects and papers? Which of Adam’s tips did you find most useful?

Post your tips/comments below.

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October 2nd, 2013
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Executive Functioning Building Blocks: Creating a Weekly Schedule

Time Management: How to Make a Weekly Schedule

Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to build a weekly schedule and manage your time more efficiently.

1. Start with your obligations
2. Then fill in Homework Time
3. Make sure you include time for fun

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Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi, guys. Adam S. here, with Prepped & Polished in [inaudible: 00:03],
Mass. Today, we are going to talk about how to build a schedule. It’s
really tough to keep everything in your head when you get into high school,
college. Organizational tools can be really valuable, if you use them:
Daily planners, log calendars; really valuable tools. You really want to
get yourself a good planner to start, planners and assignment notebooks.
You want to try and find a planner that has a 30-day view and a 7-day view.
Then you want to plug your big events coming up into the 30-day view, and
then look at those a week at a time and line them up in your 7-day view.
We’re going to talk a little bit about what that looks like. Let’s take it
over to the whiteboard.When it comes time to make your weekly schedule, you want to start by
filling in the stuff that you have no control over; they’re your
obligations. The time’s fixed, you have to be there. Basically, your job is
just to show up. That’ll be stuff like class, your history class, 9:00 to
10:00, math class, or practices for soccer; extracurricular activities,
appointments. That’s the skeleton of your schedule, and then you’re going
to plug the rest of your time in around that.Since school is your Number 1 priority, the next thing you want to think
about is homework. How do you think about how much homework time? A good
rule of thumb is you want 1 to 3 hours of homework time per hour of class
time. Say you’re taking 4 classes, and they each meet for 1 hour, 3 times a
week. You’re looking at 12 hours in total class time. That means you want
to budget for anywhere from 12 to 36 hours of homework time. That might
sound like a lot upfront, and you’re probably not always going to need that
much time, but you want to budget that much time so you know it’s there if
you need it.How are we going to use that time? Say I decided that this is going to be a
2-hour homework block. What I want to do is look at all my syllabuses for
my classes and make a list of all the homework I have to do for each class
that week. Say that I have math numbers 1 through 20; history, read pages
70 to 85. Keep going on down the list. Then you want to get a rough idea of
how much time each of these assignments is going to take. This is something
you’ll get a better sense for as time goes on. A good trick is to do a
small portion of it. Say you have to read 15 pages for history: Set a
timer, read 5 pages, stop the timer; see how long it took you, and then
divide that by 5. Say it took you 20 minutes; 20 / 5 = 4 minutes a page.
You have to read 15 pages; it’s going to be about an hour. You want to
budget for an hour of history reading, and then plug that into your
schedule in that homework time.How do we decide which homework to do when? You really want to prioritize
by a due date. If history is not due until Friday and math is due on
Tuesday, you want to plug math first; make sure you get math done Monday
night so it’s done in time for Tuesday, because you know you’ll have later
in the week to do that history homework. Another important point is to
think about breaking up larger projects into smaller projects. We can talk
about that more in a later video. If you have a big paper coming up, you
want to break that down into 1, 2 . . . maybe even 3 separate pieces, where
you do an outline, a draft, edits. It’s really overwhelming to try and do
any big project all at once, but if you can break it down into its
component pieces, and then take each piece and put that into a day in your
schedule, it’s much more manageable.It’s also really important to schedule fun stuff, too. When you think about
your schedule, if you know that playing Xbox is really important, make sure
you make time for Xbox. It gives you something to look forward to, it makes
the schedule more fun, and if you don’t make time for it, you’re just going
to take it out of other time when you’re supposed to be doing homework.
It’s really important to know yourself. Give yourself time for your
obligations: History, math, soccer, time for homework, and then time for
fun. It’s going to take you a little bit longer the first couple times you
do it, but it gets a lot easier, and in time, it becomes second nature. By
the second half of the semester, you won’t even think about it, and your
life is going to be a lot easier.

Those are the basics of building a schedule. Remember, you want to start
with your skeleton; your obligations. That’s your class time, your
extracurriculars, activities you have to go to. Then fill in your homework
time. Prioritize your subjects by due date, and try to assign realistic
time blocks to each assignment. Then make sure you include time for fun
because that’s important too. All right, guys. We’ll talk to you next time.

How do you currently manage your weekly schedule? Which of Adam’s tips did you find most useful?

Post your tips/comments below.

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September 18th, 2013
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5 Tips for Students Who Struggle with Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning and Study Skills Tutor gives Executive Functioning Tips By Adam S., Executive Function & Study Skills coach, Prepped & Polished, LLC

What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning (EF) is a series of mental processes that utilize our past experiences to make informed decision about present and future actions. Students who have EF related learning disabilities can face difficulties with:

• General organization
• Planning and time management
• Multitasking and prioritizing
• Shifting focus
• Asking for help

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Ways to Cope with EF related learning disabilities
Fortunately, there are behavior-based strategies to work around these challenges. These strategies are like anything in life- successful execution is going to take lots of practice, and it’s important not to get discouraged if at you first you don’t succeed. It’s about progress, not perfection!

1. Use your Resources: Ask for Help, Early and Often
• Most schools have resources to help students overcome learning challenges, but students have to advocate for themselves. These resources usually include free counseling and tutoring, and reserved “quiet places” to do homework and take exams.
• Apply for extra time for exams- this will usually require an assessment by the school, and/or a doctor’s note, and can grant students the right to extra time on exams, the ability to use computers for written exams, and the ability to take exams in a quiet environment free from distraction.

2. Get to Know Your Professors
• Introduce yourself to your teachers at the beginning of the semester- be upfront about any concerns you may have about success in their course, and the fact that you face some learning challenges. Talk about flexibility in regards to deadlines- most professors will be willing to work with you. It’s better to discuss these issues up front, because if you wait until the day before your big project is due, the professor is going to be less inclined to work with you, and assume that the student is just lazy or making excuses.

3. Make Easy-to-Reference Checklists
• Utilize flashcards to make sure that you’re prepared each time you leave your dorm. Bullet out everything you need to take with you for class each day, or for club meetings, or sports, and tape those lists on your mirror, or by your door. Do a quick check before you head out the door each day.

4. Use Tools to Stay Organized
• Utilize large, easy to read visual planning tools, like wall calendars and daily planners, and check them several times a day. Write due dates on your calendar and planners, so that you’re always aware of approaching deadlines.
• Don’t forget to schedule time for transitions (walking to class, catching the bus, etc.)
• Use a watch with multiple alarms to set reminders for different activities and to keep track of time. For example, if you want to spend 30 minutes working on a particular assignment, set two timers, one to alert you at the half-way point, and another to go off when time is up.

5. Break Your Work up into Manageable Chunks
• Don’t try to tackle big projects all at once!
• Always ask for written instructions if possible.
• Break large projects into smaller pieces, and assign a timeframe to each piece. (It’s better to overestimate how much time you’ll need!)
• Work backwards from the due date; if the assignment has 4 pieces, and each piece will take about 2 hours, you need to allot 4 different homework periods to working on each of those elements, and then probably another 2 hours block to make edits and revisions. That means you need to start the project at least 6 days before it is due, and you should probably give yourself even more time, just to be safe.

Consistent application of these strategies over time will absolutely contribute to success in college level academics and beyond. Remember, although it may seem to take longer at first, taking the time to be prepared and organized will ultimately save you time and headaches in the long run.

Do you struggle with executive function? How do you better your executive function skills?

Post your tips/comments below.

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Adam holds a B.A. in History from Boston University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. Adam has been working as a private tutor since 2009, helping students with executive function and study skills coaching, standardized test prep, college application and essay writing, English language and writing development, study skills and executive functioning. He’s worked with students from diverse backgrounds, from high school to college graduate programs, both domestic and international. Adam honed his own time management skills in college, where he juggled a full time and a part time job while also attending to his own full time studies. Adam is an Eagle Scout, and a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda national honor society. Adam plans on returning to school to pursue a Master’s in Education, and in his free time is an avid trail runner. em>

September 4th, 2013
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