Tracking All The Things
My brain tracks things. It does it automatically, sometimes without my consent. I’m not sure when it started. It is possible that I’ve always done it. I know for certain I’ve been at it for at least the past decade. This capability is, mostly, very useful. It is the reason that I am able to run so many projects in parallel. It is the reason that Howard and I hit deadlines and one of the reasons we’re able to make a living at what we do. I love my ability to track, but there are times when it is problematic.
Just last week I was out to breakfast with my friend Mary. She told me about some upcoming tricky scheduling between a work event and a family event where she had to travel extensively in between. During the conversation, I felt my tracking brain click on and I knew that some part of my brain would be paying attention to whether Mary was able to make her tight connections. There is no point to me tracking that information. Mary is a grown up. These are her events, not mine. And there is nothing that I can do to affect the outcome. My life would be more contented and less stressed if I could spend that day happily oblivious to Mary’s travels. And I’ll probably spend most of that day not thinking about it. But at least a couple of times, my brain will ping “I wonder if Mary made her deadline.” and then I’ll go check.
This happens to me every day. My brain pings me about a dozen things that it has chosen to track. Was there a follow up to that internet kerfluffle? Did so-and-so manage to make that souffle? Don’t we need to start scheduling that meeting for that project which is three months down the road, but we need to start now? I haven’t seen a schedule from AnyCon yet, I should email and check. I’m constantly thinking of things before the people, whose jobs the things are, have had a chance to think of them. I do my best to reign it in and make sure that my tracking does not adversely impact others. The good news is that while I can’t stop my brain from pinging me, I am not compelled to follow through on the pings. I can answer a ping with “That’s not really my business” and move on with my day. That thing is likely to ping me again until the deadline is passed, but each time I can dismiss it or act on it as seems appropriate and logical.
Unfortunately in the parenting arena things get murkier. It is easy to see that my friend’s travel plans are not my job. But what about my child’s homework? Obviously the child needs to do the work. Obviously it is my job to teach kids how to face homework and get it done. Obviously young children need an adult to help them track and teach them how to track. Obviously children under stress need more help than usual. But there is an area where things are much less obvious. I have to figure out at what age I step back and let the kids track their own things. The ages differ according to child, previous experience, and ongoing stress level. I’m really good at stepping in and giving lots more help. I’m much less good at stepping back. If I know what the assignments are, I want my kids to snap to it and get it all done because then those assignments will stop pinging in my brain. What my sixteen year old needs right now is space to sort and track his own assignments. He needs to find his own ways of getting things done. His ways are not my ways and that makes my tracking brain crazy. It pings me all the time about his work, and my job right now is to tell it to shut up, because tracking is his job, not mine.
The good news is that eventually my tracking brain will recalibrate. My college kid is home now and my tracking brain is treating her like any other visiting adult and not trying to track all of her tasks and things. Though I don’t ask for details about the work she needs to complete while she is here. Details are hooks on which my tracking brain gets caught. On the whole I suspect that this aspect of how my brain works is outside of normal, but it is more of a benefit in my life than a detriment, so I’ve just learned to manage it.
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