Planning encompasses processes involved in formulation, evaluation and selection of sequence of thoughts and actions to achieve a required goal. The classic task to assess planning ability is the Tower of Hanoi task, where the discs of different sizes are placed in the ascending order on one rod out of three rods and the objective is to move them to other disk moving only one disc at a time and placing smaller discs on top of the bigger ones (the task and its solution is shown in picture bellow). This task has been used in numerous studies to assess executive functioning
Planning is considered a complex executive function which involves all of the core executive functions: inhibition, mental flexibility and working memory. In order to plan successfully, one has to change perspectives from current time to the future where the final goal is being set to all the inter-medial steps of the plan; one also has to hold all the planned steps in mind and inhibit actions that are incompatible with plan implementation as well as all the thoughts and ideas that may interfere with the planning process. The important aspect of planning is monitoring of one's progress, which also requires memory, inhibition and shifting.
While it is obvious that complex and time consuming tasks such as organizing a birthday party, writing an essay or decorating ones room require thorough planning to be implemented successfully, much of the planning is going through our minds largely unnoticed. Even the most simple tasks such as making a cup of tea may be split into several successive steps resulting in the desired goal – drinking delicious tea. Children with planning difficulties seem unorganized, lack persistence and lose interest easily. While they are often reminded about the importance of planning and following the plan, it should be remembered that planning is not just a skill that is acquired with practice, but a cognitive ability some children may struggle with.