The Journey To A Clean Room: A Practical Application of Executive Functions By: Reid Conley
The other day I was faced with the daunting task of cleaning my room, and I was less than excited by that prospect. Now, I am an adult and consider myself to have reached an adult level of maturity in many respects, but when it comes to cleaning my room I still act like a child. I simply cannot bring myself to do it and will sometimes throw (very adult and mature) temper tantrums. Some might call that sad, and they would be right. My mother calls me lazy, but I always point out that I prefer to be considered as having a deficit in my ability to initiate tasks. I usually just say this to be funny, but recently I was thinking about this and it occurred to me that we use such executive skills as task initiation, and many others, in even our daily and most mundane tasks without even thinking about it. So as I retell the adventure of cleaning my room I would like to point out all the executive skills that were being used as I went along (details may be exaggerated for entertainment purposes, I am not this filthy in reality).
As I drew back the door to my lair and gazed upon the desolate wasteland of trash, clothes, chinchilla droppings and other odds and ends that never found their way home, I found myself unable to begin. I found myself facing the eternal quandary of where to begin. So the struggle with task initiation is actually a real one. A weaker man may have shied away, but not me. I took a deep breath and stepped into the room. The first step was finding a first step. A couple separate skills had to be used simultaneously at this point in order to proceed effectively, planning and prioritizing and goal directed persistence. I needed to set a goal, or goals, and then plan steps in order to reach those goals. The cogs spun in the ole bean for a moment, and I separated everything that needed to be done into smaller jobs. Clothes needed to be sorted and cleaned, board games and others miscellaneous items needed to be replaced on shelves, clean clothes needed to be folded and put away, trash needed to be thrown out and the floor needed to be swept. Now my goals were set and I just needed to decide which ones needed to get done first. The above order seemed best as that started at the top layer of the ocean untidiness.
Everything was going swimmingly when I happened across one of my old favorite toys beneath my bed, G.I. Joe. I stopped what I was doing and was overtaken by a nostalgic wave which caused me to take a slight detour off the road of productivity leading towards the realm of distraction. I delighted myself for a moment holding an action figure in each hand making them do well choreographed and masterful karate moves. I will not share how long this went on, but point is, I had just failed to effectively execute the use of my sustained attention on the original task, another obstacle in the way completing my quest.
I had now reached the point of organizing my board games. I have an impressive collection of them, impressive being word only fellow board games collectors might attribute to it of course; otherwise it may just be referred to as nerdy or strange. I had taken a great many of them to various locations and had neglected to put them back on their shelves when they returned. They now sat in the middle of the room in small piles. The next executive function that demanded use was organization. I have two separate shelves I put my board games on, one is high up and one is lower. First I had to separate the games into ones I play often and ones I don’t. The ones I play often go on the lower shelf. Then I had to figure out how to make all of them fit on that shelf. It takes some figuring out, it is very much a puzzle and the shelf was crammed full. Organization achieved.
The remainder of the cleaning went on without a hitch and the task was complete. One final skill was needed before I was officially finished, metacognition. This is the ability to look at yourself from a birds-eye view and assess your own performance in something. I looked upon my work and my assessment was that I had done a job well done.