Executive Functioning: The Day in a Life of an Adult

By Dr. Sheila Murphy
January 13, 2022

Do you and your child struggle with similar executive functioning skills?

Author and learning coach Marydee Sklar humbly tells us that, “Executive functions generally improve over time as our brain ages. That said, not all brains achieve maximum EF over time. They are a very complex interconnected network of interacting neurons spread primarily across the front of our brain and deficits in these neural networks will vary from person to person.”  When she has a client come to her to discuss their frustrations with their child’s executive function (EF) challenges, she asks them to pause and reflect on their own struggles. 

Executive functions generally improve over time as our brain ages. That said, not all brains achieve maximum EF over time.

A Real Life Example as an Adult 

You need to get ready for work and get the kids off to school. You need to plan: what you are going to wear, what the kids are going to wear, what you’re all going to eat, what you need to bring with you for work, and ensure the kids have what they need for school. Make sure to prioritize your time and tasks—don’t get distracted by Facebook posts (or arguments), or caught up in other frustrations when you should be getting ready for your day. You need to manage your time by allowing yourself enough time to get showered, get dressed, pack everyone’s lunch, and drive the kids to school (and yourself to work). You need to organize everything you need for the day, especially since you’ll be headed out to dinner straight from work for your co-worker’s 40th birthday, and you won’t have time to come home if you forget something (like your co-worker’s birthday present). In order for you to remember this change in schedule in the first place, your working memory better be on point. Did you remember to confirm with your hubby or sitter?  After dropping the kids off at school on your way to work, there is an accident on your typical route, so you need to reroute yourself to get to work on time, for which you’ll need to engage your flexibility. Maybe someone cuts you off in the heavy traffic along your detour. You need to use your impulse control skills to ensure you don’t get arrested for endangering others (I joke…sorta). Once you get to work, you need to begin planning your work day and prioritizing your tasks, making sure to utilize those time management skills to adhere to that deadline that’s today! While at work, you realize what you’ve been working on isn’t turning out exactly like it should, so you utilize your self-monitoring skills to determine if a change is needed. Make sure you initiate those tasks that need to get started today in order to plan ahead those big projects that are coming up. Oh, and later, at a team meeting, you need your working memory up and running so you can remember the important points of the meeting and begin employing those in your work that afternoon. And just wait ’til that after-work birthday celebration—there will be lots of opportunities to employ some of those impulse control skills with no parenting responsibilities for the night!

Checking Yourself

As you read through the story above, think about all the areas you might struggle throughout a typical day such as that one. I remember trying to get my 3 sons out the door for school in the mornings wishing I would have made their lunches the night before, or planned what I was going to wear instead of staring blankly at the clothes in my closet. If only I had organized things the night before! I am also one of those people who tries to live in the moment, but I, then, cram as much as I can into a day so sometimes time management can be a struggle for me. As Marydee Sklar likes to say, “Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!” I think about all the times my mom would be late or the fact that family gatherings never start on time because we are always waiting for one of my now adult son’s to arrive. Upon reflection this is a skill I wasn’t taught at home and it isn’t one I was able to teach my own children. However, with awareness as an adult I have been able to make a conscious decision to find tools and resources to support this area of my own EF struggles. Learning to utilize these tools when my son’s were younger would have helped me to support them, so maybe we wouldn’t be waiting around the table to eat for Sunday family dinners!

With awareness as an adult I have been able to make a conscious decision to find tools and resources to support this area of my own EF struggles.

About the Author

Dr. Sheila Murphy

Dr. Sheila Murphy is the founder of Alma Bonita Animal Rescue and an educational consultant focused on equity, diversity, social emotional learning and inclusion.  Sheila went into education specifically to advocate and address gaps in the system that failed her own three sons.  With a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership, a Master’s Degree in Education, a Master’s Degree in Supervision and Administration and as a Certified Life Coach, Sheila has focused her life’s work on giving to those who are most vulnerable in this world.

Learn more about Dr. Sheila Murphy on her website