Executive Function Issues & Strategies

Executive function is “the boss” of the brain, serving to select a goal, formulate a plan, get going, problem solve along the way, and evaluate the outcome. This is often described as the “glue” that holds things together, and if it is damaged, individuals may have difficulty holding down a job or completing complex tasks.

The most common issues people have with executive function include:

  • Difficulty selecting a goal or task.
  • Misjudging how long something will take.
  • Difficulty retaining information in the moment.
  • Lack self-awareness.
  • Inability to mentally shift in a task.
  • Difficulty controlling impulses.

Effective strategies include:

  • Create clear plans with small steps.
  • Break down larger tasks into smaller goals.
  • Use routines.
  • Identify what is needed before starting.
  • Color code items.
  • Use written checklists and timers to monitor progress on a task.
  • Minimize distractions and limit multi-tasking.
  • Use visual cues, prompts and lists.
  • Review how the individual did through self-reflection and discussion so that behavior and/or process can be improved for the next time.


Executive dysfunction can be very subtle and not noticed in routine, daily activities. It isn’t until a person completes a cognitive challenge or tries to integrate all their skills into a complex task (such as returning to work) that the deficits become apparent.