Everyday challenges for people who struggle with executive function

By Kate Kelly

Everyday Challenges for Young Adults With Executive Functioning Issues, woman grocery shopping

At a glance

  • Trouble with executive function makes it hard to do everyday tasks.

  • There are simple ways to make some of these challenges easier.

  • One step is to go at your own pace and not worry if it takes longer.

Dealing with everyday tasks can be hard when you struggle with executive function. We rely on this group of skills to get things done and to switch gears when situations change. 

Trouble with executive function can get in the way of doing even basic tasks like paying bills or planning a meal. But there are strategies you can try to make everyday challenges easier to manage. They include breaking down tasks into smaller chunks, creating visual reminders, and doing things at your own pace.

Here are some quick fixes for common challenges.


Challenge: Keeping track of documents 

Quick fix: Clear plastic accordion file folders 

Tax returns, passports, insurance documents, social security cards — when you need these items, you need them. And replacing them can be a pain. Place each item in a separate sleeve in the folder so you can see them at a glance.


Challenge: Preventing piles of stuff everywhere

Quick fix: Containers, plus a set time to put things away

It can be hard to put items away or throw them out immediately — and stay on top of it. As a first step, just contain your stuff — in tubs, boxes, or laundry baskets. Set a regular time to go through each one and put away the items. (If it’s mail, go through it every few days.)


Challenge: Paying bills on time

Quick fix: Online banking

Bill paying is much simpler if you can do it online. Paperless bills mean fewer papers to organize. With auto-pay (automatic payments), you don’t have to remember to make a payment before the due date. You’ll still need to check in on your account every so often, though. If auto-pay isn’t an option, set a regular time to pay bills — like the first day of each month, right after dinner. 


Challenge: Handling unexpected situations 

Quick fix: Take three deep breaths or count slowly to five

When situations suddenly change, you may have a hard time pivoting. Your first reaction may be stress or panic. This makes it even harder to see options. Use calming techniques to slow yourself down and regroup. Then, think about what you need to do, who you need to call, and how you can solve the problem.


Challenge: Creating and following schedules

Quick tip: Build tasks into existing routines

Schedules can help people get things done. But they can also be hard to create or follow. Keep it simple by pairing chores with regular activities. For example, if there’s a show you watch every Sunday, make that the time you fold laundry. Or unload the dishwasher while you’re already in the kitchen cooking, not sometime later that evening.


Challenge: Sticking to a budget

Quick fix: Don’t go anywhere without a list

Making and managing lists isn’t always easy. But neither is controlling your impulses. Write down how much money you have to spend on food, clothes, and entertainment each month. Every time you go shopping, bring a list of what you need to buy. If you have extra money to get something that’s not on the list, fine. If not, put the item you want on a wish list to buy later on.

Want to learn more about executive function and related skills? Read about working memory and processing speed. And find out how one expert explains the relationship between executive function and ADHD

Key takeaways

  • Clear accordion file folders make it easy to store and find important documents.

  • Going shopping with a must-buy list can help prevent impulse purchases.

  • Deep breathing can help you slow down and think of options when situations change.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.