From Poor Executive Functioning to Independent Adult

First, let me start by saying that no one is a fully independent adult. It’s a fallacy and wrong and parents need to get it out of their head. We all go to restaurants, and hire people to provide services (plumbers, electricians, roofers, people to plow your snow (a nod to my NE readers)), and most of us buy products at the store. It’s part of this great thing we call life, where we are all connected to other people.

But how do we go from being highly dysfunctional in executive arena to keeping up the appearance of being this iconic independent adult? Parents are the most notorious (any parent, not just an autistic one, or parent of an autistic/disabled child, all parents) for juggling lots of roles. In jobs and careers, executive functioning is highly needed.

Now I’ve been told by a lot of people that I look so organized, so put together, many don’t realize I have such poor skills in implementing an organization plan. The only time it’s obvious is when I continually drop the ball on someone. By the end of the day though, I’m pretty wiped. By the weekend, I am completely wiped (to the point that as I’m typing this, I’m doctoring a migraine that popped up overnight). So more or less, I use all my tips and tricks here at work, but we have started to institute plans at home to makeup for that.

So how do I give off this organized appearance?

  1. Trello – This is mainly for you worker bees out there, but can be used for a lot of other things. This is a task management system for projects. So at work, since I work for ASAN and am in charge of several different projects, when I am in charge of a team, I use Trello. This allows me to keep track of what everyone is doing and see when other people are having their own executive functioning issues. In general, it’s a good tool.
  2. Doodle – This is a scheduling service, if you’ve never heard of it before. You can propose dates and times and make the option of letting people choose their own timezone. This is really great when you have 4 or more participants for a given meeting. I usually just plug in when I’m available and let everyone choose from that. You see when the most people can meet, and schedule the time. It also now has the ability to copy the meeting information to your Outlook or Google calendar. (Something I’m very excited about.)
  3. Google Calendar – Speaking of Google Calendar, I rely on it for everything. The simple reason is because I can sync it across all computers, all devices, all the time. Well, it did that until Google stopped supporting Outlook. I’m still researching behind that, because I really do need it to sync to my work calendar. If I’ve missed a meeting with you, it’s most likely because a glitch happened and it didn’t sync to one of my devices. I try to make sure this doesn’t happen as much as possible though.
  4. Legal Pad – Yes, I still rely heavily on paper for work stuff. Boss or co-worker ever say “Remind me to do X later?” Well, mine do all the time (sorry guys!). So I have a notepad out that I have “Remind [name]” at the top and keep a running list of things I’m supposed to remind them of. I have a larger legal pad for my own to-do list. I will usually think about it before I head to work then jot it down so I don’t forget to do something.
  5. E-mail Reminders and To-Do list – Last, but not least, I rely on emailing myself reminders and emailing for To-Do lists from my boss. If it’s not on my own to-do lists, then I will most likely forget to do it. So requesting a to-do list is an accommodation need to make sure I’m doing all priorities, not just the ones my head gets stuck on.

Do these things mean I remember everything? No. I also have a process of the first thing I come in and do is to check emails and only respond to emails. If I accidentally go against my own rules and check the night before or on the weekend, I flag things so I remember to respond to them despite being read. (This is actually the most common reason I forget to respond to someone. It’s because I’ve checked my email on the weekend or at night when I follow the rule of “Don’t respond because it is out of business hours.” Then I didn’t flag it, so it gets lost.) First thing on Mondays, I also try to restraighten my desk to look like more than mounds or strewn about papers.

But as you can imagine…. using all of these things takes up a lot of energy. It’s a huge string of checks and balances. Someone else in the office has xer own system as well, but mainly of big to-do lists (several different ones, I believe, though I’ve never looked at it). I suspect xe gets equally drained after a full day.

So what we are instituting at home (with my husband who generally has equally poor executive functioning skills, but a different type than me)…

  1. We’re bringing in a professional organizer. It’s amazing what these people can do like organizing processes for home and creating an organized environment. So most things we are ok at. But our number one issue is paper clutter.. Mail and school papers and more school papers. Most parents keep papers around long enough to see how their kid is doing. But as most parents of disabled children know, you need to keep papers for the entire year to properly track progress. Also, the sheer amount of junk that is sent home shocks me. (I say junk because I subscribe to the e-newsletter which has all the same stuff, but without clogging up my table.) Then of course IEP stuff.
    One a side note here, we typically try to scan the important things, like IEPs, evaluations, assessements and then daily communication sheets. For school papers, we got magazine holders. They hold more paper than the regular paper holders you can get. We also put mail in them. Generally, it’s a good system.
  2. Next, we’re bringing in a maid service. (Not linking because it’s a personal choice on where to go, and unlike with professional organizers, there is no organization that license these sorts of things.) This is to help with the monthly (or slightly more than monthly, but less than weekly) chores. We have our hands full and our minds full with work and getting normal chores done that by the time the weekend comes, all those monthly-ish things tend to go by the wayside easily. So while we cook, clean dishes, do laundry, and try to sweep and vacuum often, things like scrubbing the baseboards and cleaning the windows are just too much.
  3. Last, we use a babysitter or drop-in daycare. I prefer the former, but sometimes they are not available. If we still need to get out without the kids, a drop-in daycare facility can be hugely beneficial. For our well-being and functioning, sometimes it’s good to have time where we do not have to take care of more than ourselves.

I’m quite certain there’s more we can be doing, but this is what I/we do currently. Thought some people may be interested in seeing how supplementary aides can help them keep things going. As a note for the three things on the bottom list, I know that those mostly rely on the ability to pay someone to do it. However, it’s possible that you may have friends you can barter with. If they are good at organizing or cleaning, but need someone to watch their kids from time to time, you may be able to trade those two services. This creates the added benefit of knowing the person is someone you trust. All of the things on the first list are free, but keep in mind, many of them rely heavily on being connected to the internet at all times, even on the go, to be 100% reliable. If you work from home or work in the office, and don’t do a lot of meetings outside of those two settings, they should still generally be fine for you though.

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