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What is Executive dysfunction?



Executive dysfunction

Executive dysfunction is a catch-all term that describes ongoing challenges with our ability to manage ourselves and our responsibilities. These self-management abilities are often referred to as Executive Functions and include skills such as organization, time management, task initiation, emotional regulation, and long-term planning.

examples of executive dysfunction

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Time Blindness

Difficulty or inability to sense the passage of time

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Difficulty in starting or initiating tasks for a variety of reasons

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Challenges in keeping track of personal belongings, maintaining an orderly space, and managing deadlines

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Inability to understand and manage reactions to feelings or events

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Easily losing focus on a goal or objective

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Tendency to become easily annoyed or angered

executive function in adults

As an adult, executive functions are absolutely essential to managing day-to-day demands at work and at home alike. From paying bills to meeting work-related deadlines, we rely on these core skills to do just about everything we need. When executive dysfunction becomes a constant, unaddressed problem, the potential for serious consequences in our lives becomes unavoidable.

the impacts of executive dysfunction

Life balance Executive dysfunction can result in an inability to manage both work and personal life demands.
Stressors Executive dysfunction can lead to heightened stress due to a lack of control over life demands.
Skills gap Underdeveloped executive function skills from your childhood can persist into adulthood and make it more difficult to change old habits.
Demands outpacing capacities When the complexity of your demands increase, executive dysfunction can prevent you from meeting expectations.

What can you do about executive dysfunction?

You might have heard the term "Executive Function Disorder." While there isn’t an official diagnosis called executive dysfunction disorder, substantial challenges with self-management skills can often feel like a disorder.


Understand how executive dysfunction begins

Executive dysfunction commonly occurs in individuals with ADHD, but any lack of cognitive control in selecting and monitoring behaviors that will help you to reach your goals will also increase executive dysfunction.




know the signs of executive dysfunction

  What does executive dysfunction look like at work? What does executive dysfunction look like at home? What does executive dysfunction look like in relationships?
Focus Struggling to finish tasks Difficulty completing house chores due to distractions Difficulty being present with friends or partners
Organization  Struggling to schedule and organize projects Misplacing household items or hoarding Forgetting important dates like birthdays or anniversaries
Emotional regulation Trouble tolerating work frustrations and working with peers Damaging furniture or items due to emotional outbursts Struggling to proportionately react to inconveniences or negative things
Time management Showing up late to work or running long meetings Oversleeping or leaving food in/on the stove for too long Difficulty making time for partners or friends
Flexible thinking Difficulty solving problems and considering the perspectives of co-workers Leaving appliances inoperable for extended periods of time Difficulty resolving disagreements
Planning & prioritizing Struggling to decide what's most important Difficulty planning meals and paying bills on time Trouble making and committing to long-term plans/goals



Do you have Executive Dysfunction?


How to evaluate

Seek a qualified provider for a neuropsychological evaluation.

Use the executive dysfunction checklist below.

Take our executive function skills quiz.

Begin quiz now

executive dysfunction checklist:

The more of these you check, the more likely it is that you're experiencing executive dysfunction.

  It's difficult for you to find things when you need them.
  You struggle to focus on tasks.
  You often struggle to manage your time.
  You often get overwhelmed or stressed out.
  It's difficult for you to know where to start when you have multiple tasks.
  You have a hard time working with people.
  You procrastinate often.
  You're often running late.
  You feel like your thoughts are "all over the place".
  You have an unclear sense of your strengths and weaknesses.
  It's normal for you to lose momentum when working on a project.
  You struggle to adjust to change.



Understand Potential Causes of Executive Dysfunction


ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, sensory processing disorder (SPD), nonverbal learning disability (NVLD)


Head injury (concussion, traumatic brain injury), PTSD, early childhood neglect/deprivation/abuse

Underlying Medical or Mental Health Conditions

Depression, anxiety, dementia, OCD, and many other conditions


Learn Ways to Manage Executive Dysfunction

Useful tips

  • Get an executive function coach.

  • Chunk out your work.

  • Find a work buddy if procrastination is an issue.

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Everyday Tools

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Know Your Professional Help Options for Executive Dysfunction

Treatment provider options


  • Builds confidence and the ability to cope with challenges from the past
  • Grows self-reflection and self-awareness skills and improvement of mental health

Occupational therapist

  • Develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills needed for daily living and working
  • Often helpful for individuals with complex cognitive or physical disabilities

Speech-language pathologist

  • Assists with rehabilitation from brain injury
  • Address the development of social skills with adults on the autism spectrum
  • Build skills in all areas of Executive Function, most commonly in a school setting

Executive function coaching

  • Builds self-management skills
  • Teaches strategies to overcome old ineffective habits and achieve personal goals
  • Focuses on action, application, and reflection

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