What are Executive Function Skills?

EF skills are a group of mental skills which enable us to make decisions, focus, and reach goals. When students struggle to stay on top of responsibilities at school or home, there is often a need to support and develop executive functioning.

  • Organization:
    The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.

  • Planning & Prioritizing:
    The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task; to make decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not; and to break a big project down into doable chunks.

  • Task Initiation:
    The ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion.

  • Sustained Attention:
    The capacity to maintain attention despite distractibility, fatigue, or boredom.

  • Time Management:
    The capacity to estimate and allocate time to stay within time limits and meet deadlines.

  • Working Memory:
    The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks.

  • Flexibility:
    The skill to adapt to changing conditions—flexibility allows students to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes.

  • Goal-directed persistence:
    The capacity to have a goal, follow it through completion, and not be derailed by distractions or competing interests. A student with this skill can complete projects and homework.

  • Ability to make conscious choices in stressful situations:
    The capacity to think before you act – the ability to resist the urge to say or do something in the moment, instead allowing time to evaluate a situation and how our behavior might impact it.

  • Stress Tolerance:
    The ability to function in stressful situations and to cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands.

  • Metacognition:
    Self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills such as asking yourself questions such as:  “How am I doing?”  “How did I do?” and the ability to incorporate this awareness into one’s future approach.

  • Emotional Control:   Managing emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control behavior. This might look like the ability to recover from disappointment or to manage the anxiety of a game or test and still perform.

List adapted from Smart but Scattered Kids by Dr. Peg Dawson and Dr. Richard Guare