College Executive Functioning Tips
Fair warning: this post is not really about doing homework, rather ideas for successfully acquiring/accessing more general living and organizational skills while dorming. Also, my first semester has been a shitshow so idk how qualified I am to give advice on the matter, but take it as you will. In a way it’s “things I learned the hard way”/a reflection on my first semester.
That being said, here we go:
1. To remember to bring the correct notebooks and materials, get a hanging clothes organizer and label for the 5/7 days of the week. Place the books/materials needed for each day on each labeled shelf. If you need certain books on multiple days, you can put index card placeholders or label what should be in each compartment.
2. Alternatively, you can get a mini days of the week dry erase board or a computer printout and write what materials you need on which days and which classes you go to (in order.)
3. This tip also works for homework: in college, the workload is much more predictable week to week, so if you always have online math due Monday, put it in another weekly table and schedule days to work on it in advance.
4. Schedule your asssignments to be done ahead of time. It’s a lot harder to get deadline-related accommodations in college and if you’re like me you feel uncomfortable asking for them. I’ve only needed to ask for one non accommodation included extension this semester, and it’s largely due to this.
5. Get. Your. Accommodations. In. Order. Before. The. School. Year. Starts. (if at all possible)
Learn from my mistakes. To be fair I didn’t have another option because my school requires everything to be done in person but it took me a month to get my letters which resulted in some awkward/discriminatory situations. Oops.
6. College accommodation processes are different than high school. There are no 504s/IEPs/under the table stealth accommodations here. Some colleges require retesting for your documentation. All require you to fill out a bunch of forms. You are largely responsible for knowing what helps you (though your liaison will likely make suggestions) so make a list of what worked for you in high school and will fly in college and request those (bring it with you to the meeting if you will forget). Also, your parents are generally forbidden from getting involved unless you sign a consent form, which is a huge change. You will need/be forced to develop self-advocacy skills. I definitely did. You also generally need to request to renew your accommodations every semester, and it’s your responsibility to remember. Set a reminder on your phone/digital calendar.
7. Post its are your friend. For me, they’ve been a valuable asset to my sucky working memory and using them minimizes resulting anxiety.
8. Laundry is hard, especially when you have physical disabilities. Double check your pockets or you might accidentally send your favorite pen through the wash and induce a meltdown. (To be fair I do check- which is why I said double check)
9. Choose specific dates/times to do your laundry, and set reminders. If you alternate lights and darks and do it, say, every Wednesday morning (pick an off time- Friday nights are great) you are a lot less likely to end up with a month’s worth of laundry and nothing to wear when you really need to look nice. Also, your suitcase can double as a rolling laundry basket.
10. Try to eat around the same times every day. Set alarms if you forget. Try to go on the off hours and eat as healthily as possible.
11. Clean your room before it gets too messy. This should go without saying but my drawers got junky by the end of the semester. Try scheduling a day of the week to do a quick clean up.
12. Your space can be a reflection of your mental state. I need things visually organized, but when I’m not doing well mentally I stop cleaning off my desk, putting my clothes in the laundry basket, making an attempt to make my bed, you name it. I’ve learned to recognize that this is a sign of stress and that tidying up a bit will make me feel a bit better.
13. College is not conducive to sleep, especially for work heavy majors. You. Need. (around) 8. (ish) Hours. Get them. It’s hard but everything else will fall apart if you don’t.
14. Make “ routine cards” for things like showering. Write down everything you need to take a shower on an index card and your steps for taking a shower (you can set a timer) so that you don’t take half an hour to get out your shampoo.
15. Drink water. Carry a water bottle so you have the visual reminder. Drink a glass at every meal. Schedule “teatime” and make an event of staying hydrated.
16. Allow yourself to relax. This is hard because the college environment demands you be “on” at all times, and this resulted in me feeling guilty for not studying when I was, well, not studying. I’m trying to work on scheduling times to work and times to not work, and to remember that I need to do fun things to take care of myself.
17. If you dress nicer than usual, you will apparently not look as depressed (assuming you have depression in the first place…). Use this to your advantage.
18. If you have un/undertreated/situational depression, get help before it gets really bad. I know a lot of college mental health offices push people away but put your self advocacy skills to use and get that counseling or whatever.
19. In the same vein, if you are struggling in a class (for whatever reason) don’t be ashamed to get extra help/sign up for tutoring. Especially if you’re like me and never needed to study a day in your life before this because the courses are structured differently.
20. Recognize your accomplishments. College can be really, really hard for people with impaired executive functioning, mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, etc. The change is hard and the learning curve is steep. But you’ve made it this far- so congrats! Celebrate!
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