Monday, January 30, 2023

The Lead Domino: A Unique Way to Look at Executive Functioning

We are pleased to welcome a new team of guest bloggers, Brandon Slade and Katie Zak of Untapped Learning, who today begin a three-part series, introducing a new way to look at Executive Functioning.


Some days, we feel stuck. Maybe we have a clear to-do list with reasonable tasks, maybe we have a full page of high-priority items. In both scenarios, we can feel overwhelmed and find ourselves spinning our wheels. Why can’t we just pick something from the list and get to work? In these moments, we debate if we should choose the easiest tasks just so we can knock them out quickly, or if we should start a harder, longer task that’s the source of some tangible anxiety. Instead of getting caught between these two options, we have a third: Find the lead domino. 

Part 1: Identifying the Lead Domino 

Take a step back. Look at your list. Maybe even look beyond your list. What one thing could you do that might positively impact the rest of your day? Maybe it’s not a work or school task, maybe it’s just jumping in the shower. Maybe it’s pausing to really prioritize your to-do list. Maybe it’s committing to not checking your phone, email, or other distractions that can pull your attention, until the task with the closest deadline is complete. Regardless of what your specific “lead domino” is, it has the power to positively impact your day. By knocking it down, you’ve opened yourself up to a strategy and system that can more easily carry you through the rest of your responsibilities. One domino knocks over the next, and the next, and the momentum is perpetuated in a chain reaction.

If you begin with a “lead domino” task, you can build the momentum needed to cross off the rest of your list items more easily—even if they are exponentially larger. Often, by achieving one key task on the list, the rest of the tasks will be significantly easier. 

If you set up 13 dominos in a row, each domino one and a half times bigger than the one before, the first domino could be five millimeters tall and the last domino could be more than one meter tall and weigh 100 pounds. If you knock the first domino over, after just 13 “reactions,” the largest domino would topple over easily. We can apply this idea to our lists. The “lead domino” task is like the five millimeter domino; if you get this one accomplished, toppling the 100 pound domino at the end will be much easier than trying to push over the heaviest domino first. How can we identify the lead domino? 

● Slow down: This may feel counterintuitive when the goal is to accomplish your long to-do list, but by slowing down and taking the time to examine which tasks will help achieve other tasks, you will make your systems more efficient. Taking the time to identify the lead domino allows us to re-evaluate priorities, reorganize your list, and maximize efficiency. 

● Ask yourself: How do these tasks relate to one another? How can you shift the order of your tasks to best maintain your momentum? 

● Make a new list: Based on the information you’ve observed, make a fresh list. For example: As a busy college student, creating an email template will help you cross off the three emails that you need to send to professors, allowing you to figure out what your missing assignments are, which then will let you get to work on those assignments. All of those tasks are grouped together and they depend on tipping over that lead domino: creating the email template. 

Completing your lead domino may take awhile and be more tedious than you’d like, but by tackling this task first, the other tasks will be easier to complete going forward. Your lead domino could be anything from outlining a paper to going to the gym for a workout! Both of these activities are examples of lead dominos that give you the momentum to get your work (or your day!) started.

image by wirestock on Freepik

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