July 25, 2024

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functions are a series of cognitive processes necessary for managing tasks in the world.

ADHD women struggle with these tasks. Each woman has their own unique profile, some may struggle more or less in each area.


These cognitive processes include:


  • Planning: Setting goals and deciding on the steps required to achieve them.



  • Time Management: The ability to gauge available time, allocate it efficiently, and stay within time limits and deadlines.

  • Prioritizing: Making decisions about what is important to focus on and what isn't.


  • Organizing: Arranging thoughts, tasks, or items in an organized manner.


  • Decision Making: Making choices among various options.

  • Behavioral Inhibition: The capability to resist temptations to engage in potentially harmful or inappropriate behaviors.


  • Concentration: Maintaining focus on a task or activity.


  • Memory: The skills required to hold steps and things in your mind, pay attention to details, follow directions, and retrieve things.


  • Task Shifting: The ability to switch from one activity to another.

  • Metacognition and Self-awareness: The skills necessary to reflect on what you are doing, be honest with yourself, learn from your mistakes.


  • Emotional Regulation: Manage and responding to emotional experiences.

Common Strategies to Help with Executive Functioning Difficulties in Women with ADHD

 1. Externalizing Critical Information

This means taking important information out of your head and putting it in a place where you can see it and interact with it. This could involve writing down tasks, instructions, or other important information on paper or a digital device. This strategy helps individuals with ADHD to not rely solely on their memory, which can sometimes be unreliable, and instead have a visual reminder of the information they need to remember.

 2. Making Time Physical

This strategy involves using physical tools to represent the passage of time. This could be using timers, clocks, or other tools that can help individuals with ADHD visualize the passage of time. This helps in managing time more effectively as they can see it passing, rather than trying to estimate it internally which can be challenging for individuals with ADHD.

 3. Breaking Tasks into Smaller Steps

This strategy is about taking a larger task and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps. This helps to prevent feeling overwhelmed and makes it easier to focus on completing one step at a time. It can also make it easier to start a task, as starting with a small step can feel less daunting than trying to tackle a large task all at once.

4. Using External Motivation

Individuals with ADHD often benefit from external sources of motivation to help them stay focused and complete tasks. This could involve setting up rewards for completing tasks or having someone else to help hold them accountable. This strategy leverages external sources of motivation to help drive action and task completion.

 5. Relying on Physical Problem-Solving Aids

This strategy involves using physical tools or aids to help solve problems. This could be using paper and pen to work out a math problem, or using physical objects to help visualize a problem. This strategy helps individuals with ADHD to work through problems in a tangible way, which can sometimes be more effective than trying to solve problems mentally.

 6. Replenishing the Executive Functioning Resource Pool

This strategy is about recognizing that individuals with ADHD have a limited amount of executive function resources and that these resources can be depleted over time. It's important to take breaks and engage in activities that help to replenish these resources, such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in physical activity. This helps to maintain a healthy level of executive function resources, which can aid in better overall functioning.

 Neurodivergent affirming strategies for adhd women

Traditional approaches to aiding women with ADHD have unfortunately pathologized their experiences.


They've often overlooked crucial factors like:

  • stress
  • trauma
  • sensory system responses
  • and shame

all of which can significantly impact executive functions in women with ADHD.

Such approaches commonly exert undue pressure on women to "improve their executive functioning, " neglecting to assess whether the demands are excessive.

In my practice, I challenge this narrow view by reframing how we understand and address executive function challenges.


Instead of aiming to "fix" perceived deficiencies, I advocate for neurodivergent-affirming strategies. This approach works with the brain's unique strengths and attributes, rather than against them.

Implementing these neurodivergent-affirming strategies provides a foundation for women to assess how they might approach personal goals. My focus is on fostering self-accommodation, self-compassion, and self-advocacy. When these skills are in place, executive functioning will often improve.

Further exploration of our intrinsic potential is achieved through somatic work, strengths work, and values work.

By also prioritizing self-care and self-awareness, we can enhance our understanding of our needs and limitations. This understanding empowers us to set realistic goals and expectations, thereby reducing unnecessary stress that can impair executive functions.

In this way, not only do we affirm our neurodivergence, but we also cultivate our well-being and personal growth. Executive functioning challenges seem to dissipate to a great extent after putting these pieces in place.


It's best to examine "strategies" after this point, but they can be worked on simultaneously if necessary.