Executive Function and ADHD: What’s the Connection?

Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that help us manage our lives.  That’s the formal language. I like to picture a big organisation with actual executives – one in charge of operations, one for sales, one for finance, and so on. Just like the executives in a big company, the executive function skills all have to work together to help us get things done. These skills are behind our ability to plan, organise, prioritise, and complete tasks.  You can see why they are so important for our daily functioning!

However, for ADHDers, these cognitive processes can be a little glitchy. I am going to use this blog post to explore the relationship between executive function and ADHD and introduce some strategies to overcome difficulties as they develop.

The Prefrontal Cortex: The Hub of Executive Functions:

At the heart of executive functions lies the prefrontal cortex. It is here that your brain handles:

Working memory: 

The ability to hold information in our minds temporarily and manipulate it. Think of it as a mental whiteboard where you jot down and work with information. 


The ability to resist urges and delay gratification is crucial for self-control. The prefrontal cortex helps us make wise decisions even when tempted by immediate rewards.


Setting goals and working towards them, even when faced with challenges, is a cornerstone of achievement. The prefrontal cortex keeps our motivation engine running.

Emotional regulation: 

Your ability to understand and rationalise emotions.  The prefrontal cortex keeps you on track when emotions make things rocky.

Planning / Problem solving: 

The prefrontal cortex helps us think ahead and strategise how to achieve our goals. It keeps track of things, puts them in order, and helps you progress toward success.


Understanding our thoughts, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses is facilitated by this cognitive function. It’s what helps us grow and adapt.

The Executive Function River

I like to imagine the Executive Functions as a river system because each function influences the others.  And our brains, just like a living water way, are being shaped and changed over time – naturally through the course of nature, but also by any deliberate interventions we make.  There are no clear boundaries between each of the areas of the executive functions, the concepts and impacts flow through each other.

The Impact of ADHD on Executive Functions:

So what does this mean for people with ADHD and their executive functions?  Well, generally, individuals with ADHD have an underactive prefrontal cortex which can create difficulties with their executive functions.  For example, if you have ADHD you may experience difficulty with some of the following:

  • Avoiding distractions and staying focused
  • Keeping track of time
  • Working towards goals
  • Resisting unwanted impulsive behaviours
  • Making decisions
  • Handling stress or unwanted emotions
  • Lack of self-awareness and self-motivation 

How Executive Function Coaching can help:

Executive function coaching is a type of therapy that helps people with ADHD to improve their executive function skills.  Coaching can help people with ADHD improve their ability to plan, organise, and control their behaviour, which can lead to improved academic, work, and social functioning.  A coach will provide a blend of support, guidance, feedback, and advice as they walk the journey of ADHD with you.
Interested in ADHD coaching?  Why not take a look at my ADHD Sweet Spot.  This is a membership for people just like you!  We meet three times a week for live coaching so we stay on track and get things done.  You will connect with a community of like-minded people, and you’ll even learn more about living with ADHD in our educational hub.  Check it out here.

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More To Explore

Planning & Problem Solving

Planning and problem-solving is the final category of executive function we explored in the ADHD Sweet Spot membership.  Conceptually, planning and problem-solving equate to mental play.  It’s about juggling the

Self Awareness

Self awareness is the ability to understand your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  It is a key executive functioning skill. In fact, some would argue it is foundational to all the others. When we are aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and motivations, we are better able to control our impulses and make choices that are in our best interests.

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