Task Initiation

12 Executive Functions of the Brain Spotlight: #5 Task Initiation

Over the last couple of months of this 12-part Executive Function Spotlight Series, I’ve focused on planning and prioritization, key executive functions underlying the capacity for future thinking, which are required for setting and reaching goals and deadlines.

This month we zero in on Task Initiation, which is the Executive Function skill that is critical for starting tasks. This skill especially comes into play when we don’t want to do something, or we don’t fully understand how to begin the task. So we put off starting the project…for a long time.

But the knowledge that you need to do it gnaws at you and ultimately becomes even more of a time suck than actually DOING the Big Scary Thing.

While I generally consider Task Initiation as a strength of my own brain, (witness my ability to author books and build a business), it isn’t always easy for me to rein in my brain to start certain small tasks. Sometimes I struggle with big projects, some of them as “simple” as writing this monthly blog.

Here’s how I ramp up task initiation when I am struggling. I start by “hacking” my brain with strategies that perk up my brain chemistry. These are my favorite methods right now:

#1: Listen to Music

The music I choose depends upon the task. Disco brings alertness and gives me energy to face the day and tasks like housekeeping. I go to mellow classical music via my beloved All Classical Portland station when I need to think creatively. I’m listening to a lovely piano piece right now.

#2: Write Down the Task

On my day plan in my Seeing My Time Planner system, I write down the task along with a small achievable period of time that I am willing to work. I focus on making PROGRESS, not completion.

#3: Set a Timer

I set a timer for that small achievable amount of time I am going to work. Setting the timer relaxes my brain. I know this undesirable task has an endpoint that is not too far into the future. I will get to stop!

#4: Celebrate Progress

When the timer goes off, I cross off the task on my to-do list and celebrate. Sometimes I even write “Yay!” next to what I crossed off. This is a way to celebrate the accomplishment of sticking with something I didn’t want to do. It makes me feel good to overcome the resistance in my brain and persist toward reaching a goal.

#5: Stay or Switch?

If after celebrating my progress (and if I have the available time), my brain might just be motivated to add another small amount of time to continue working on the task. If so, I go for it and use the momentum to make more progress. If not, well, that is OK too. I have been successful, simply by making progress. I do a happy dance, then go and do something else.

Do you have a task that needs some task initiation? Try hacking your brain to get around the resistance using my strategies. You CAN make progress!

Little by little,

Marydee Sklar

About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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