July 7, 2015

7 Reasons Why Numbered Lists Suck you In.


I love a good list.

Not making them, but reading them. I want someone else to do it for me—just lay it out for me please and fix my life in three easy steps.

I even clicked on something with a title like “7 Ways to Make a Better List Article” for this list article. This is like an entire industry now. And just like my experience with “5 Ways to Improve Everything” types of articles, I implemented every single one of the suggestions. Odd numbered lists are better, for some odd reason.

Lists, lists, lists. Oh what is the power they hold over us? And why is every self-help article these days a list? Behold dear reader, herein lie some answers in list form:

1. You May Have ADD.

Or ADHD. Or Smartphone disease. I blame the internet. I mean why not? It’s the obvious choice. Things are constantly fed to you in bite-sized nuggets. There’s no real depth there, because people can go to another webpage/blog/anyplace more interesting than your webpage in about 1.8988 seconds. The amount of physical energy that requires is about .00002 calories.

Probably why we’re all getting fat, too.

2. They Only Take a Sec.

It makes me feel like I’m going to solve my problem in 2.333 seconds. And we don’t want to suffer a second longer than we have to, right? It’s the promise of instant gratification, and I can’t back this up, but humans seem to be wired for right-here-right- now results (sorry Jesus Jones).

Actually, there is a school of thought that subscribes to the concept of humans as wired for efficiency—or at least looking for the most direct route to solving a problem. But doesn’t that just make sense?

3. Numbers Are Irresistible.

Like, wow, it’s all so clear to me now! 1,2,3,4 and done! You can count that on one hand. No, I don’t have any more to go on for this one, but one of the first things you’re taught to do is count. You’re wired to do it. It goes into your subconscious and you react to it.

You can’t resist it, so don’t even try.

4. It’s Clickbait.

Come on, you clicked on this, right? Well, let’s hope someone besides my mother did anyway. And I can’t vouch for her clicking either. But point being, you can’t help it!

People are drawn to lists. I have a gut feeling about this due to the fact that numbered lists outnumber funny cat videos. Well no, cat videos always win.

5. You Don’t Have Time.

Well you do, but you really should be reading that work report instead of reading this list. But you know, you can squeeze in a few numbered bullet points before you really, really crack down and read that report.

Besides, the list is going to tell you how you can work smarter in just a few tiny, numbered paragraphs. So really, you can’t not read it. It will make you read that report faster and do a bang up job discussing it in that meeting you have in 20 minutes. Definitely.

Or maybe that list will tell you how to leave your job in a few steps, because you’re not going to finish that report before the meeting anyway.

6. You Have Time, You’re Just Lazy.

I mean you’re reading your phone while you’re sitting in that doctor’s office, or at the DMV or walking down the street—okay please don’t do that last one, that’s annoying. And you’re impatient. The last thing you have the energy for is to read some in-depth article about X, Y or Z. God, especially Z!

You don’t know when you’re going to be called at the DMV, and you have to pay attention when that nurse says your last name wrong. Because she will. Nine out of ten of them do. And so you can’t be engrossed in some long-assed article that goes on, and on and on, like the emails of some bosses I know.

7. You’re Tired.

Too tired to read anything but a list. Smartphones make people tired, I’m convinced of this. Through them, we’re constantly given new information, like a drug. Drip, drip, drip into your brain like a dopamine IV. But lists also make people tired. “5 Ways to do this, 7 ways to do that better“. And God we could all do something better!

And yes, that is tiring. Constant self- improvement is tiring as is feeling subpar all the time.


So drop the lists. Or at least don’t put numbers next to them.


Relephant Read:

Here’s an Idea that should Win the Internet Today.


Author: Claire Geddes

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: bluesbby/Flickr

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