Dealing with school life when you have Executive Dysfunction can be a huge challenge. Teachers often aren’t aware of it, and it can massively disrupt your work. But that’s not to say it’s impossible to still be successful in your school life!
Executive Dysfunction is a disruption or weakness of a set of mental skills (your executive function) that manage and regulate other skills like managing time, focus, initiating behaviours or shifting between exercises and multitasking. In short, executive function is your ability to get things done, and executive dysfunction is a weakness in that department. I like to explain it to my friends as “extreme” procrastination, but in reality it is so much more than that. Executive Dysfunction is more common in people with ADHD or Depression, but anyone can have it.
My Executive Dysfunction stayed undiagnosed for almost 18 years because I do very well in school regardless. I have been labelled lazy and unfocused for most of my life, particularly by my family, but my grades indicated nothing wrong. But for me, daily functioning is a huge challenge. I need ages for things like getting out of bed, and simple tasks like showering and cooking are a struggle because I can’t initiate them or manage my time (which is how I ended up eating at 2 am last night). I also have trouble focusing, meaning I hardly ever study because I can’t do the same thing for a long time. My attention drifts even in very important situations, like when I’m taking exams. But luckily, there’s ways to cope:
1. Set early deadlines
Set personal deadlines before something is really due. Already doing that? It doesn’t help? Set earlier deadlines. If you’re like me and can’t outsmart yourself, tell someone about it, like your teacher, or a responsible friend. Tell them “I expect to be done by this date.” Make it a promise. If it helps, you can promise your friend you’ll go out with them the day after. This sense of expectation will force you to stick to your early deadline even if you outsmart yourself.
2. Ask yourself “when can I do it?”
Doing things is difficult. I get it. But instead of berating yourself and telling yourself you should be doing a certain task, ask yourself “when will I be ready? What do I have to do to be ready?” If you find you need to lie in bed for 10 minutes before, do it. But listening to your needs is kind on your brain and makes the task less daunting and exhausting. Additionally, doing this gives your brain, always slow at beginning tasks, time to get used to the idea.
3. Write it down a million times I jot everything down in my phone, then write it down in my notebook, then transfer it in my calendar to see due dates. After that I put it in my week task list, and from there transfer it to my daily to-do in time for the early deadline. Sounds exhausting, but if I only write down my assignment in three places instead of all of them, I forget it. Additionally, write down small things like taking a shower or cooking dinner.
4. Prioritise tasks
Because ED can make it difficult to multitask or switch between tasks, you need to prioritise extra well (for those of you whose ED prevents them from prioritizing, ask others to help you). Things that are due soon need to be done first. Long tasks like that 20-page-essay should be split into chunks that you treat like a single assignment. I cannot switch tasks at all, but because it’s impossible to write that essay in one sitting, seeing one section as an assignment allows me to switch, staying on top of my regular schoolwork and still getting that essay done.
5. Talk to teachers beforehand
Teachers are usually more forgiving the earlier you tell them you won’t be able to make a deadline. Talk to them. If they don’t get it, prioritise and shift the tasks you can hand in late to the back of your to-do list.
6. Remember it’s a real thing and give yourself time. Forgive yourself.
You’re not lazy, or apathetic. Your brain is wired differently. Be kind to yourself and let yourself lie in bed sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up for falling behind because you were staring at the door for half an hour. Be forgiving, and talk to those close to you so they understand why you’re late to that coffee date. And don’t forget, if you feel like you can’t handle it on your own, you can always get professional help.
The most important thing is to make it clear to those around you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, lists are your friend and can help you get everything under control! Treat yourself kindly, and good luck!
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