Executive Functioning Skills- Teach Planning and Prioritization

Planning and prioritization activities

We’ve been talking a lot about executive functioning skills here on The OT Toolbox recently. There’s a reason why: so many kids struggle with executive function disorder or just are challenged by sills that make up the executive functions. Planning and prioritizing tasks is a big concern for many kids who struggle. These skill areas are essential for initiating tasks and following through with projects.

Use these tips and strategies to teach planning skills and prioritization skills, two executive functioning skills needed for everyday tasks in the classroom and home.

How to teach Planning and Prioritization

We know the feeling of being stuck on a big project. It can be overwhelming when we are presented with a task so immense that we spin our wheels with fixing problems. Maybe a big house remodel or other multi-step project comes to mind. For our kids with executive functioning challenges, the smallest project or task can be overwhelming. Planning and prioritization are a big part of that.

In fact, many adults struggle with the skills of planning and prioritization, too. Recently, I’ve had many readers reach out in response to our free executive functioning skills email course. Several readers have indicated that much of the information applies to themselves (and adults) or other adults they know. Planning and prioritization are skills that can be difficult to establish well into adulthood. For the adult with executive functioning difficulties, these are common concerns and challenges. The information below can be a help to children, teens, and even adults.  

Here are strategies to help the adult with executive function disorder. Many of these tips and strategies are great for teens as well. 

planning and prioritization Problems

You’ve probably seen the child that:

  • Can’t get started on homework
  • Has trouble figuring out how to start a big assignment like a book report
  • Starts a project but then never finishes because they struggle with the steps
  • Has difficulty remembering and completing all of the steps to when getting dressed and ready for the day
  • Can’t figure out the most important assignments to complete first
  • Has trouble when there are more than a few items on a “to-do” list
  • Can’t sequence a project visually or verbally
  • Has trouble looking at the “big picture”
  • Can’t figure out how to find the important items when cleaning out a messy desk
  • Overwhelmed when planning out the day

The activities listed below can help with the executive functioning skills of planning and prioritization:

Prioritization is another complex executive functioning skill that, when achieved, provides kids with the ability to achieve goals. Deciding on steps of a process and thinking through that process to work toward the most important tasks is a difficult skill for many kids.

When prioritization is difficult for a person, getting every day tasks like getting dressed, completing homework, or multi-step tasks can be nearly impossible.

Prioritization allows us to make decisions about what is important so we can know what to focus on and what’s not as important. Being able to discern tasks that are necessary from those that we should do is crucial.

Prioritization is a critical skill to have, but can take some practice to achieve. Try the activities listed below to support development of this skill.

Activities to Teach Prioritization

Provide opportunities to practice prioritizing by planning simple tasks. Talk about how to build a snowman, how to make a bed, and other tasks they are familiar with.

Discuss the most important steps of tasks. What must be done before any other step can be done.

Show kids photos, and ask for their opinions about what they found to be the most important detail or big idea.

Make to-do lists to help kids plan and prioritize. Once you have everything written down, then rank tasks in order of importance.

Make a list of assignments with due dates. Highlight the things that must be done first.

Create a calendar and schedule.

Create a daily task list. Check off items as they are completed.

Try easy projects. If something seems to “big”, break it down into smaller steps. 

How to Teach Planning

Planning is an executive functioning skill that refers to the ability to create a plan or a roadmap to reach a goal. Completing tasks requires the ability to have a mental plan in place so that things get done.

Planning and prioritization are EF skills that are closely related. Additionally, skills like foresight, working memory, and organization enable successful planning.

Planning can be a stumbling block for many with executive functioning challenges. Try the activities below to support the ability to plan out tasks:

Draw out plans. The drawing prompts in the Impulse Control Journal can be a great exercise in using drawing to work on real skills and goals with kids.

Teach kids to create a drawing mind map to plan out a multiple step project.

Teach kids to create lists. Using sticky notes can make planning easier and allow kids to physically move tasks to a “done” pile as they are completed.

Plan a simple task like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Ask kids to write out the steps then check them off as they are completed.

Take planning and prioritization a step farther

Want to really take executive function skills like planning and prioritization to the next level of success? The Impulse Control Journal is your guide to addressing the underlying skills that play into trouble with planning and prioritization. 

The journal is an 80 page collection of worksheets and prompts to discover what’s really going on behind executive functioning skills like planning, organization, prioritization, working memory, and of course, impulse control. 

While the guide was developed for students of all ages, this printable workbook is perfect for adults, too. It can help you discover strategies that make a real impact for all of the skills needed to get things done. 

Here’s the thing; Everyone is SO different when it comes to struggles related to executive functioning and everyone’s interests, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are different too. All of these areas play into the challenges we see on the surface. And, this is where the Impulse Control Journal really hits those strengths, weaknesses, and challenges where it matters…in creating a plan that really works for kids of all ages (and adults, too!)

Check out the Impulse Control Journal, and grab it before the end of February, because you’ll get a bonus packet of Coping Cards while the journal is at it’s lowest price. 

The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids. 
More about the Impulse Control Journal:
  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset, Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom  
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence  
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs  
This is a HUGE digital resource that you can print to use over and over again.