Effortful before effortless

I have been reading a lot about Neanderthals lately. I have long been fascinated by non sapiens early human species, and had not really found much about them in my search of books. But it turns out I just wasn’t looking in the right places (yes, I know about Sapiens, and that wasn’t really what I was looking for).

I read a review of a recent release (Kindred) in the Wall Street Journal, and once I read that, Amazon has been recommending every single book on early human evolution that exists. There’s a book called The Neanderthals Rediscovered, a short one (not terribly useful) called The Denisovans, and one by Chris Stringer called Lone Survivors. I don’t think I’ll pick up The Clan of the Cave Bear (that sort of novel generally isn’t my thing) but it has been interesting to read about it.

As I read multiple books about the topic of early human origins, I learn about all the controversies. There are a lot, because so much of this is speculation, informed by tiny bits of the fossil record. What does a layer of what seems like ash, with a thumb bone, and a preserved stick with possibly intentional holes in it mean? The human brain’s evolved ability to create elaborate explanations is well on display in this field! What I think we can see is that the evolutionary process is most definitely not straightforward, nor is the advancement of culture. People develop technologies, and then become isolated and lose the technologies.

Also, did you know there was a tiny hobbit-like species of humans on the Indonesian island of Flores, which existed until relatively recently? (until 50,000 “ka” meaning thousands of years ago…I’m learning the lingo! The Neanderthals likely went extinct around 40,000 years ago.)

Anyway, I’m reading all these books on the Kindle app on my phone. I track how I spend my time, and I’d noticed lately that I was spending far more time than I wished scrolling around on social media. It makes sense; scrolling fits in the 20 seconds I have between episodes of redirecting my crawling baby away from something he shouldn’t stick in his mouth. It’s also a brainless thing to do while nursing. I can entertain myself while sitting in the car as the kids are at their karate lessons. But there’s a lot of vitriol. We get a daily print newspaper; I am not missing out on opportunities to stay informed.

So I’m challenging myself to open the Kindle app first when I pick up my phone. I challenge myself to spend the first few minutes of my screen time reading. Then I can do other things if I want, but I’m often happy to keep reading. Yes, I know I have given this advice in the past to do “effortful fun” before “effortless fun.” But I don’t always remember to take my own advice. Doing so has created space for me to read five books in the past three weeks, which is a pretty good burn rate! Now on to figure out my next Neanderthal read…

In other news: UPDATE: The sign-up for the pilot phase is now closed- thank you very much! The Tranquility by Tuesday project and book is moving forward. In the next few days I’ll post a link to sign up for the pilot phase of the survey. I’m recruiting a small(ish) group of folks to try it out. Here’s how it works: I collect some information about how you spend your time. Then, for 9 weeks, you get a weekly email about each of my favorite time management strategies. You fill out two short surveys. Each week, you can select a non-profit to receive a $3 donation (just as an incentive to keep going). It’s not hard, but at least for the pilot phase I’m hoping to have a low dropout rate so I can refine the survey. Please consider if you (or family members/friends) might be interested and able to commit to it. The pilot phase will run from mid-November to mid-January.

Photo: Scene from yesterday’s trail run

23 thoughts on “Effortful before effortless

  1. I was an anthropology major in college and I also find Neanderthals and other humanoid species fascinating! Just wanted to throw out there that you might want to include anthropology in some of your searches as well. People tend to think of it as studying different cultures, and that’s part of it, but it encompasses a large range of topics, including physical anthropology and the evolution of humans and related species. It might also be worth looking up a syllabus for related college courses to see what books they are using—Amazon suggestions can be spotty because they just algorithms.

  2. ooo Kindred and Lone Survivers both look good. Thanks!!

    I’ve been so intrigued with human evolution: I’m currently reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in an attempt to understand the Theory of Natural Selection for myself, from the source. He writes well, and the book was intended for a general audience. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it.

    1. @Sara – excellent! Emailing everyone who comments and of course anyone who reads this is welcome to email me directly as well 🙂

  3. Happy to be a part of the pilot; your advice during the Tranquility by Tuesday blog series significantly improved my life. Can’t count how many times during COVID I’ve said to myself “3 times a week is a habit. It’s ok”

  4. Hi Laura, I’ve been similarly challenged about my phone and mindless scrolling. I’m guessing you already know about Blinkist as I’ve read snippets of your books through that platform, but I’ve found it a really useful and productive way of reading more during those ‘in between activity’ moments 🙂

    1. @Kirstin- you can join the “real” survey this spring! The pilot is just helping me figure out what works and what doesn’t before I go out to a much bigger group.

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