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Planning, sequencing and monitoring

In this page …

What is 'planning, sequencing and monitoring'?

Put simply, 'planning, sequencing and monitoring' are the kinds of thinking we need to do to successfully achieve our goal or solve a problem. We need to think about what needs to be done, and the order to do it in.

We also have to watch and judge how well the plan is working and if it will get the result we want. This is an ‘executive function’ because the brain has to manage lots of different processes as they work together to plan, sequence and monitor thoughts and actions (behaviour).

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How is ‘planning, sequencing and monitoring’ involved in behaviour?


The world is a busy and complicated place. Imagine you are in a busy shopping centre with your child and you need to:

  • Know where your child is.
  • Remember that drama class starts in two hours and there might be heavy traffic on the way.
  • Remember all the shops you need to go into and what you want to buy.
  • Avoid arguments about going into toy shops.
  • Persuade your child to get their feet measured and choose the shoes (that you know are best!) without a big fuss.

Not an easy situation! Different people will choose to deal with this in different ways. They may each come up with a different plan.

Some may:

  • Decide it’s not all going to happen today and prioritise: what things need to be done today and what can wait.
  • Write lists so that they don’t forget all the things they need.
  • Plan a route that avoids toy shops!
  • Find a few different pairs of shoes that they know they’d be happy with before taking their child into the shop.
  • Or, they might avoid the shop altogether and order them online.

A plan is the result of being able to imagine what you want to do and then can come up with different ways to do it. You need to hold different possibilities in your mind (in working memory) while you weigh them up to work out which is the best course of action.

In other words: which is the best plan.


Sequencing is the ability to put things in order to decide how you go about doing something. It may involve thinking about how different options will work out: likely outcomes and consequences.

For example:

  • How everyone is going to feel (eg a big fuss about shoes is going to put us both in a bad mood)?
  • What order to do things in (eg go for shoes before or after drama?).
  • Which things are most important (eg the shoes or a new t-shirt?).

Our existing experiences and knowledge and problem solving skills are used to help work out the best thing to do. The decisions that are made allow the person to plan and to work out the order they want to do things in: to sequence their actions.


As a plan is put into action, the person needs to check that things are working out the way they wanted. If something unexpected happens, they might need to change the plan half way through, eg meeting a friend while shopping and stopping to chat, might mean that plans need to change. Plans need to be monitored to check that everything will get done and that goals will be achieved. This is done in ‘real time’ ie as we go along. If a need to change is noticed, the cycle of problem solving and planning may start again.

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How can ‘planning, sequencing and monitoring’ be changed by hydrocephalus?

Executive functions are controlled from the ‘command centre’ in the frontal lobes of the brain. This part of the brain is connected to all the others. This allows the brain’s executive functions to co-ordinate activity. Hydrocephalus can change the way the brain is structured and how different areas and their functions are connected. This can change how processes work.

For reminders or more detail about:

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Key processes involved in planning, sequencing and monitoring

Problems in the brain’s processing might stop someone from planning, sequencing and monitoring an activity because they struggle to:

There are many things that can affect the brain’s processing including the ability to plan, sequence and monitor activities. Take a look at the introductory page for a reminder of ‘Other things that can affect how we think and behave’.

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Possible problems

Even simple things like getting dressed need the brain to come up with an idea of what it is we want to do: the goal we want to achieve. The brain needs to work out how to get to that goal, like thinking about: what clothes to wear; where to get them from; the order to put them on etc. A failure to plan, sequence and monitor actions may add to difficulties with:

  • Getting things started or initiating activities: if we don’t have a plan we might not know where or how to start eg following an instruction; packing a school bag; doing homework; getting dressed; brushing teeth.
  • Doing things in the wrong order or at the wrong time eg taking a lunch bag out when the bell goes at break time; putting on shoes and forgetting socks; getting lost on a well-known route.
  • Not recognising mistakes and/or not trying to put things right eg that the subject in a conversation has changed; that they need to think differently to solve a particular problem; getting lost on a well know route.
  • Sticking to a plan, action, behaviour or an idea regardless of how a situation/conversation has changed. This also shows an inability to switch behaviours when appropriate.

The process of planning, sequencing and monitoring relies heavily on the brain being able to process things quickly. If a child has issues with speed of processing, then this too can make it difficult for them to cope in the classroom, the playground and at home. In addition, if the child cannot keep all the information they need in working memory, they may have difficulty coming up with plans. They might also struggle to keep plans in mind while they act on them.

A child or young person who has a problem planning may show general difficulties in getting organised, or have problems in social situations. Problems in planning can add to other difficulties, so dip into the Living with Hydrocephalus for hints and tips on how to deal with the problems listed above and more.

Every individual will be slightly different in the way their thoughts and actions are affected by hydrocephalus (and associated conditions). It is important to think about each individual’s pattern of strengths and difficulties. Patience, determination and trial and error are likely to be needed to find solutions that suit your child’s unique needs.

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