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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Top 10 Frightfully Useful Tips from Executive Function Coaches

From Beyond BookSmart's
Executive Functioning Strategies Blog

October 30, 2015

As this month draws to a close, it’s likely that you’re stocking up on fun-size candy (sampling to ensure quality, of course) and perhaps carving a pumpkin or two with your family. For us Executive Function coaches, the final days of October also mark the end of ADHD Awareness month.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been posting handy tips on our Facebook and Twitter feeds to help parents and students address the academic challenges that come with the territory of having attention difficulties. As our Halloween treat to our blog readers, we’ve selected our top 10 frightfully useful tips to share with you in one neat package. (Of course, a person need not have ADHD in order to benefit from this advice.)

1.) Use Google Calendar or iCal to manage time effectively.

Kids as young as 5th grade can benefit from online calendars. Both Google Calendar and iCal can be synced between phone, tablet and computer and include features such as text reminders for appointments, color coding of different types of events, task lists with due dates, and the ability to schedule recurring events. Many kids find the visual representations of chunks of time in their day more useful than listing times (i.e., karate class 4:15-5:30).

2.) Keep a folder of helpful resources to promote independence.

If your child has been successful with graphic organizers or other note-taking strategies, keep examples of both blank and completed handouts in a readily accessible folder (paper or digital, as your child prefers). No need to re-invent methods and waste time.

If your child has some online resources that have been useful, such as thesaurus.com, place them in the bookmarks section of the menu bar and title them with clear names for easy reference.

3.) Try 5-minute goals. 

Sometimes big tasks are just too overwhelming. Other times, the to-do list is longer than what can possibly be accomplished in a single sitting. Students can be coaxed out of their inaction by selecting a task that should take no more than 5 minutes, setting the timer, and springing into action.

We have seen this tactic become a springboard for longer periods of work. Sometimes, just becoming immersed in the task leads to a productive 10, 20, 30 minutes or more.

4) Keep track of that paperback.

Students frequently misplace reading materials for English. That play or novel is another item to keep track of, a smaller object amidst the bulky binders and heavy textbooks. A three-hole punched zippered pouch can work well as a dedicated holder for the current paperback your child’s class is reading. It can’t slip and slide its way to the bottom of the locker, or scatter onto the floor in a rush to pack up at the end of class.

A post-it note reminder attached to the front cover to return the book to its home often helps students maintain this habit.

5.) Don't let breaks put the brakes on productivity.

For homework, plan the work, and plan the breaks. Take the “fuzziness” out of breaks so they don’t put the brakes on productivity.

First, a break is time-limited. It is a short, 5-15 minute period that has a clear beginning and end.

Second, a break is part of the overall homework plan. It doesn’t just erupt out of nowhere. Study breaks are strategic and used to energize and refocus a distracted student.

6.) Color code to cruise through studying.

You know that you stop at red traffic lights, slow down at yellow, and cruise through when it’s green. It also makes sense to manage study materials that way. When kids have study guides for tests, they can start by color-coding them. Highlight in green what they know well. No need to spend a lot of time studying this. Then, use yellow for what they “kinda-sorta know” to cue them to slow down and review. Any areas in red indicate a full stop: this content is totally unfamiliar to them.

By color-coding, students can spend time more effectively by focusing on the red and yellow material the most.

7.) Use apps to help you stick with healthy or productive habits.

Habit List reminds you daily of your goal and then tracks progress over time as you record it. Use it to remember to exercise, sit down to do homework at a consistent time, review notes for classes, prepare your backpack for the next day, and more.

Wunderlist is a free, versatile task app not only helps you track simple, "once and done" tasks, such as mailing a birthday card, but it also provides the features to manage complex projects that are completed over time. Opening the app takes you to the Inbox where you can add To Do items right away. This promotes better focus during work time.

When students neeed to remember medication, the MediSafe app can help. This app shows four screens for time zones in the day: morning, noon, evening and night. When you select a medication, it puts an actual graphic of what that pill looks like into the appropriate zone.

8.) Transform the deadline mindset.

Encourage your child to look at deadlines in a different light. A deadline can be viewed as a helpful tool – they force you to make decisions and push forward, rather than dwelling on a specific aspect of a project for days. Talk to your child about reframing his or her thoughts – don’t think of that upcoming due-date as a burden, but rather look forward to it as a time when your work will be finished!

In fact, calling it a finish line might help your child adopt a different mindset that emphasizes accomplishment instead of looming misery.

9.) Give yourself a gift: be present.

One of the best test prep tips is to be focused in class. Prepare for class by doing assigned reading and homework. Participate. Ask questions. Each day new nuggets of knowledge are nestling into your neurons. Turns out, learning is most effective in these smaller chunks, over time.

Students aren’t simply biding time until baseball practice or play rehearsal during class. Savvy ones know that they are preparing for the exam while dissecting that sheep’s lung in biology.

10.) Prepare to dive in after a break.

Study breaks are most effective when students have a clear sense of what they will do once they get back to work, and do some quick preparation before taking a pause from work. Before taking a break, for example, open up that textbook to the reading that needs to be done. Or set out the graph paper and pencil for the math homework up next.

This one minute prep can help students who have a hard time starting work after a break (our fancy term: Task Initiation).


Now you are armed with some of our coaches' favorite executive function tips. Use them to help your child stay organized, study effectively, increase productivity, and manage time better. Maybe you even found a tip or two that you might try for yourself.

Hey, sharing is a good thing, right? Kind of like when your little Minion or Ant Man walks in the door with a surplus of peanut butter cups on Halloween...

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