April 1, 2024

The Increasing Significance of Executive Functioning Skills in Today’s Fast-Paced World

By Emma Michiels, Instructor

In our rapidly evolving, digitally connected world, the demands on our cognitive abilities have never been greater. We are constantly bombarded with information, decision-making, and multitasking, which can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. In this era of quick changes and relentless innovation, executive functioning skills are increasingly vital. These cognitive abilities empower students to adapt, manage, and thrive in an ever-shifting environment. In this blog post, we will explore why executive functioning skills have become paramount in today’s world.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Before delving into why these skills are crucial today, let’s first understand what falls under the term executive functioning. Executive functioning refers to a set of higher-order cognitive skills that facilitate an individual’s ability to manage oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. These skills include, but are not limited to, how a person organizes materials (both physical and digital), organizes ideas, initiates tasks, manages time, plans out tasks, applies working memory, exercises flexibility and regulates emotions.

Now, let’s explore why these skills are more crucial than ever before:

1. Information Overload

In today’s information age, we are inundated with data from various sources, including social media, news, and work-related information. The ability to filter out irrelevant information and focus on what’s essential is a critical executive functioning skill. Without effective inhibition and attention control, it becomes challenging to stay focused and make informed decisions in this constant stream of data.

2. Higher Order Thinking Required

Today’s teaching isn’t just predicated on the memorization of names, dates, figures and formulas. Instead, teachers today ask students to use higher order thinking skills, such as synthesis, evaluation, comparison and application. These thought processes require that students organize ideas with more complexity and nuance, which requires a robust set of executive function skills.3

3. The Busyness Factor

The hyperscheduled nature of today’s culture requires students to maintain a high degree of efficiency to juggle all their activities, homework and outside commitments. Time management and planning skills are necessary to keep up with daily, weekly and monthly schedules. The hectic nature of today’s world also means that students are often required to multi-task. This taps into working memory, task-switching and organizational capabilities.

4. Organization Now Applies to both Digital and Physical

With the proliferation of online learning platforms, students are now expected to know how to navigate sites like Google Classroom, Canvas and Schoology. At the same time, many students still have pen and paper assignments. This duality requires that students use two systems to locate, complete and turn in assignments. To do this, students need to have excellent organizational skills in place, along with the self-monitoring and flexibility skills needed to manage the flow of work both digitally and physically.

5. The Stress Epidemic

According to the Zauderer (2023) at Cross River Therapy, “ 61% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 feel stress over producing satisfactory grades.” Executive function skills can help mitigate academic anxiety by helping students concretely initiate, plan out and follow-through on their work. Executive function skills also help students pace themselves for and come up with a plan around studying for assessments. 

In the fast-paced, ever-changing world we inhabit today, executive functioning skills have become more important than ever. They empower students to navigate information overload, manage their time, apply multitasking skills, organize both digitally and physically and manage academic anxiety. As we continue to face the challenges of a dynamic and interconnected world, cultivating and honing executive functioning skills is an essential step toward personal and professional success.