Get the basics right first

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Executive functions of the brain

Last week I attended the excellent Learning and the Brain conference in Boston. At this conference you get to hear neuroscientists and other researchers talking about their research and how it impacts on learning.

This year one of the key themes that emerged was the importance of‘executive

Planning and executive functions of the brain

Do you need to improve your time management skills?

functions in your brain. These are foundation skills that you need in order to operate successfully in life. They include:

  • Planning
  • Attention
  • Working memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Inhibiting undesirable responses


The theory is that you need these skills in order to manage everything else. They are crucial for learning. And it’s hard to think of anything you do in your life that does not demand the use of many of these skills.

As I discussed the many excellent lectures with my old friend Lew, an expert in the field, we wondered why it’s so hard to persuade teachers to spend any time on helping their students to learn these skills. Instead many just dive into reading, getting students to memorise facts and be able to pass tests. Then I realised it’s not just teachers, it’s all of us.


The lumberjacks

You probably know the story of the lumberjacks, competing against each other to cut down as many trees as they could.  (This is an old story from before rain forests and global warming, I think.)

At first things were pretty even. But after a while one lumberjack was steadily pulling ahead of the others. However, no one could work out how.


He kept disappearing into the forest. But in spite of taking this time out, he was steadily cutting down more trees than the others.

So one of them asked him what he was doing when he went into the forest. He was surprised at the question:


“Sharpening my saw.” Was his response.


Executive functions are the vital foundations

These are the skills that help you to improve everything else. So why do people spend so little time improving them? Perhaps it’s because they are so keen on instant gratification. They just don’t realise the benefit of sharpening the saw.



Let’s look at just one of those skills, planning. (We’ll be looking at others in future blogs.)  It’s basic time management. I once asked a client how much time she would save if she never had to chase up any of her colleagues. After a short reflection, she said “About 20%”. (From my observations of that company, she was being very charitable.) However, even taking her conservative estimate, that’s one day a week, spent just chasing others.


Time that is completely wasted.


We looked around the office. There were 50 people in there and I know they all had the same problem. So in effect, 10 of the people there were either unnecessary or could have been spending all their time on things that would add a lot more value than just chasing colleagues.


And it’s all down to the inability of those people (and particularly the ones at the top in that particular organisation) to plan. It may sound like a boring thing, not as exciting as many of the other things you do, but it is unbelievably important.


What do you think the impact of poor planning for your whole life is? For children, poor executive function is the difference between going to college or university and not going. It can be the difference between passing and failing exams and getting a job or not.


How much of your time is wasted through the poor planning of others? I guarantee you it’s much more than you think. And what about your own planning? How does that impact on others?


To get help at improving some of those basic time management skills get my booklet “Time Management Made Easy” or the recording of my teleseminar  on Time Management.


Time Management Made Easy

124 tips and techniques to make your life easier very quickly, by Nancy Slessenger


In this short, simple, step-by-step guide you will find out:

  • How to plan – this will ensure you achieve your goals.
  • How to prioritise – this will help you to work out what is most important to you and make sure you achieve it.
  • How to maintain your concentration.
  • How to deal with unreliable people. These people can really mess up your plans, you’ll find out how to stop that happening when you read Time Management Made Easy.
  • How to say ‘No’ without saying ‘No’. Most people hate saying ‘No’ so I’m giving you a way of doing it without saying it and it really works.
  • How to clear all that rubbish on your desk and make sure it stays clear.
  • And much more…


Get “Time Management Made Easy” now


Time Management Teleseminar

If you are pressed for time, listen to this recording. It includes:


  • The only two ways to improve your time management
  • What to do when you have too much to do and not enough time
  • How to plan effectively
  • How to deal with Interruptions
  • How to save time in meetings
  • How to get long term continuous improvement
  • And lots more…

Get the Time Management Teleseminar recording now.

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  • Time Management Made Easy

    Practical, easy to implement ways of improving your time management including how to make lasting long term gains. The tips are so short even the busiest person will have time to read them.

    Price: $8.75

    Add to Cart   Click to View

    Price: $7.29

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  • Vinehouse Teleseminar Time Management Recording Feb 2010

    This time management workshop is based on Nancy's very popular time management workshop. It gives you all the basics you need to really give yourself more time.

    Price: $29.16

    Add to Cart   Click to View

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