Life Beyond a List Post

I’ll admit that I get drawn in by list posts (i.e., those popular numbered lists used by marketers and bloggers). My conscientious side feels responsible for knowing the ten items you threw in your trash last night that you should recycle. My productive side fears losing its edge if I fail to employ six tips for making your day better even before you open your eyes. My romantic side wonders if I am single because I was unaware of the top twenty romantic comedies that screw up teens’ beliefs about love (really, someone ought to write that one). And, sadly, my serious side wants to know about the 365 fun things you can do this year even if only to appear fun by knowing how fun can be had.

It’s not that these lists aren’t useful. Many of them contain concisely-phrased common sense. Some of them, if you are lucky, are witty and a delight to read. Others provide information you really need (e.g., 14 of the Best Breakfast Taco Joints in Austin). But, the danger with these lists of handy tips, easy steps and secret keys is that they make it sound so simple. It’s not.

NumbersKnowing is not enough. In order to reap any benefit, you have to put all this must-know advice into practice. With the exception of eating the best breakfast tacos, that’s where it can get hard.

If we want to make reading these lists worth our time, we have to go further. In addition to knowing what, we have to know why and we have to know how. (Note: Rarely do these types of posts provide clues as to how you might act upon all this sage advice.)

For example, try something new is great, but why? And, how can you get started, especially if you are not keen on taking risks or inviting discomfort? There are many factors that influence whether you will take advice and actually do something with it. One, very important factor, is that you understand why trying something new may benefit you. Another is knowing that you are capable of it. If you can’t see how or doubt creeps in, it is unlikely that you will give it a shot.

Unfortunately, those of us who write up these lists often sell ourselves and our readers short. Perhaps we’ve read about shrinking attention span or found that numbered lists generate a higher click-through rate. For whatever reason, we act as if there’s not effort involved. In doing so we contribute to the belief that it should be easy. We make people wonder why it is hard for them.

The truth is our jobs, our families, our lives are complicated. Sharing advice can be useful, but first we have to admit that the practice of life requires a lot of learning – more than can be concisely contained in a numbered list.


2 thoughts on “Life Beyond a List Post

  1. I love that you wrote this. I have been thinking lately about “listicles” too, and how we’re all hungry for a formula or quick fix. Ironically, I have a draft somewhere on how to tell if you have a broken communications program. Should be Three Ways to Know…? Four Surefire Signs Your Comms Program is Broken? But I’ve stopped short of finishing it precisely because it’s just not that simple. Ha – I’ll probably still write it anyway. Anyway, I really appreciate your candor. Keep it up!


  2. Well, there’s plenty of evidence that they work in the sense that they draw people in. And, it can actually be helpful to break information into digestible bites. I’m thinking of still using them, but providing links for those who might want to know more. I’ll be interested in reading about broken communication programs.


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