12 Signs You Might Be Experiencing Executive Dysfunction

We’ve written previously about executive functioning (and how to improve it) but executive dysfunction is a topic that deserves its own post. After all, telling someone experiencing executive dysfunction to “just put away your phone!” and “use a planner!” is a lot like telling someone with anxiety to “just relax!” In other words, it’s worthless. If you’re not familiar with the concept of executive dysfunction, we’ll lay it all out for you – including the things to watch out for and the steps to take next.


What is executive dysfunction?

In the simplest terms, executive functioning refers to all those important skills we need to successfully get through our day-to-day, like making plans, getting organized, focusing on tasks, making decisions, adapting, and working toward our goals. We rely on our executive functioning skills as students, professionals, and humans.

Executive dysfunction, then, is basically when one, some, or all these skills seem to stop working, or stop working effectively and efficiently. To get more specific, the American Psychological Association defines executive dysfunction as “impairment in the ability to think abstractly; plan; solve problems; synthesize information; or start, continue, and stop complex behavior.” There is not a person on this planet who hasn’t experienced these issues in these areas before, but it becomes true executive dysfunction when it is happening repeatedly or you can’t seem to shake it.

Dealing with executive dysfunction is crucial – not just because it will interfere with your academics, but because it can be a sign of something more serious going on. In an interview with Shape, clinical psychologist Forrest Talley explains, “The list of potential sources of diminished executive function is very long, but common culprits include ADHD, depression, anxiety disorders, severe grief, traumatic brain injury, alcohol, and drug addiction,” says Talley. With COVID-19 exacerbating anxiety and depression for many, it’s no surprise that executive dysfunction seems to be increasing right along with them.


You might be experiencing executive dysfunction if…


You’re becoming increasingly disorganized

You’re struggling to finish homework or readings

You’re missing due dates and deadlines

Your mind wanders during lectures, exams, etc.

You are having difficulty regulating your emotions

You’re getting stressed out more easily

You keep forgetting things that used to be second nature

You’re finding it hard to follow step-by-step instructions

You keep losing track of time

You have trouble adapting to changes in plans

You can’t juggle multiple tasks at once

You find yourself doing something you’ve already done, or repeating mistakes

Obviously, checking off a few of these things doesn’t mean you necessarily have executive dysfunction. Checking off several things – and checking them off day after day and week after week – warrants a check-in. Because this type of enduring executive dysfunction can be caused by a more serious concern, being evaluated for things like anxiety, depression, and ADHD by a therapist or counselor is always an excellent idea. Mental health is too often overlooked or pushed to the bottom of our priority lists, and it’s so important not to let that happen.

Once you’ve addressed any potential underlying mental health concerns, our incredible Enrichery coaches can help you build up your executive functioning skills so you don’t miss a beat.


Sign up for executive functioning mini classes at the Enrichery!

Too many students make bold claims about their strengths and weaknesses: I’m just not an organized person. I’ve always been terrible with time management. I’m not a good studier. I have the shortest attention span!

The good news is that you’re not stuck that way; just like any other skill, you can improve your executive functioning. The Enrichery’s executive functioning mini classes focus on the study skills needed for academic success. Students meet two to five times per week for 30-minute sessions, where you’ll develop study skills systems that keep you on track.