How I get shit done (or at least get started) while having executive functioning challenges

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Here are 5 quick hacks I use when I really need to get shit done but my executive functioning is like “lol, nah.” They don’t work 100% of the time, but they at least help me get started on tasks.

1. Get information first

If the thought of doing a particular task fills me with anxiety or I have no idea where to start, the very first thing I do is get as much information as I can about that task. I don’t even think about taking any action yet.

Let’s say I need to reply to an email. I start by reading the email I’m supposed to reply to. If there’s any more information I need to be able to answer that email, I go and get that information. I then dump all the information I have into an email draft for easy reference, and write my email from there.

2. Mise en place

Mise en place is a culinary practice and French phrase meaning “put in place”. It refers to chefs gathering and prepping all the tools and ingredients they need before they start cooking.

It’s a practice that can be easily applied outside the kitchen. In my case, that means I prep my workspace and make sure I have all the tools I need near me, so that I can execute my task without any interruptions.

Let’s say I’m working on a graphic design project. I prep my workspace by turning on my computer, opening Adobe Illustrator, and creating a new document. I also make sure I have all the resources I need (fonts, colour palette, assets, references, etc.) on screen.

3. Fetus steps

Think “baby steps”, but much smaller steps.

Let’s say I want to practice bass guitar. I tell myself that I only need to practice for 5 minutes. More often than not, I end up practicing much longer. If I had told myself to practice for an hour instead, I probably would never get started!

Sometimes, I need to start even smaller. I tell myself that all I need to do is take my bass guitar out of its case. That’s it.

Once I’ve done that, it usually motivates me to carry on. But if it doesn’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. I try to take another fetus step, or continue at another time.

4. Do the fun/easy parts first

If it’s possible to do a task in a non-linear way, start with the fun/easy parts and gradually progress to the not-so-fun/harder parts.

Let’s say a client gets back to me on a graphic design project with a list of revisions to make to the design. I first read through the whole list, then start with the revision that I find the most fun/easiest to work on. Once I’m done with that revision, I move on to the next easiest/fun revision. And so on.

5. Half-ass it

If all else fails, just half-ass your task.

Put in as minimal effort as you can get away with just to get that task done. Sometimes that’s better than not getting it done at all!


It’s okay if these quick hacks don’t work for you. Everyone is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for things like this. Keep trying out different things until you find something that works for you!

Have any executive functioning life hacks that you’d like to share? Feel free to share them with me via email or webmention!

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