Executive Functioning: Planning

Executive Functioning: Planning

Do you ever go to the store without a list and walk out with a bunch of things you don’t need, only to realize you forgot to buy the one thing you needed?   How about when you receive an invitation in the mail and forget about the event until right before it starts?  

We have all been in situations like these.  This ties back to the Executive Functioning (EF) skill, planning. In terms of EF, planning is the ability to look at our goals and tasks and figure out what we need to do in order to accomplish them.  For adults, this might look as small as going to the store and getting milk, or as big as planning a family vacation. For our kids, this can be anything from getting a permission slip signed, to completing a research project.

Often, planning for smaller tasks is overlooked because they already seem small and manageable.  This can cause problems, especially for those who struggle with EF.  For example, let's say your child has to get a permission slip signed for a class trip.  Since this is such a small task, he or she doesn’t write it down.  They put the slip in their desk and believe that they will be able to remember it later.  

When the child is packing up for the day and they are thinking about what they need to bring home the permission slip doesn’t cross their mind because it isn’t written down.  It gets left at school, and the next day the student realizes his/her mistake.  

On the other hand, maybe the child DID remember to bring the slip home but forgot that mom and dad would be out that night and a babysitter was coming over. The child decided to leave the slip on the kitchen counter for a parent to find, but it was then forgotten.  Or, maybe someone did sign the slip, but the child forgot to grab it the next morning.  

There are several different ways this scenario could go, but if the family had good planning systems in place…

  • the student had written down the assignment,

  • the family had a calendar and the child knew mom and dad would be out late,

  • there was a checklist of things to do in the morning

the situation would be much less stressful.

Why Planning is Beneficial:

  • It reduces stress and anxiety. By planning things out you know exactly what needs to be done, and have a game plan on how you will complete it. You will also forget things (school books, homework, etc.) less often if you know exactly what you will need.

  • It helps builds good habits.  When a student plans ahead on what they will study, it reduces the chance they will stay up all night before a test.

  • Allows you to create a schedule that includes “fun” things.  If you plan ahead and stick to a work schedule, you will spend less time stressing over an assignment you forgot was due the next day, or a paper you forgot to write.

  • You spend less energy on things that aren’t of priority.  

  • Planning out long-term goals helps you see what steps you need in order to reach them.

Planning Tips for Students:

  • Keep a daily planner and write everything down. At the end of each day, the planner should have every class written down, with either “none” or anything you need to do for that class, written next to it.

  • Start planning ahead. If you learn on a Monday that you will have a test on that Friday, write it down. Spend some time writing down what you have to study each night, in order to be prepared for the test that Friday.

  • Make it a habit. If you can make planning a routine, this will make it so much easier as classes get more difficult.

How Parents Can Best Support Their Student’s Planning Habits:

  • Create a family calendar.  Any birthdays, soccer games, play practices, etc. should be written down.  This should be somewhere where everyone can see it, like on the refrigerator, so everyone can be up to date about when things are happening.

  • Make sure their assignments are written down.  Often, middle and high schools will have an online portal where the teachers can upload all of the assignments.  Use this to cross-reference with the student’s planner until they get in the habit of planning things out.

  • Model the behavior.  Children learn a lot by watching their parents.  If you consciously work to be a good planner, it models good behavior for your kids.

Planning is a crucial skill when it comes to Executive Functioning.  The earlier kids can begin to practice good planning habits, the easier planning will be throughout the rest of their lives.