The Top 1 Problem With Top 10 Lists


Everywhere you look there is a Top 10 List. They usually fall into one of 4 types that fit under 2 main categories: Informational or Actionable.


  • I Think – Pure Opinion, Usually Of Pop Culture
    • Best Movies/Songs/Books
    • NBA players of all time
    • Best 1st Person Shooter Video Games
  • I Learned – Information/Insight Gained
    • Things I learned trekking to Everest Base Camp
    • Reasons everyone should be part of an accountability group
    • Perks of owning a monkey


  • To Do – A clearly defined checklist
    • Places To See In New York City
    • Items To Bring Camping
    • Things To Do In a Maximum Security Prison
  • How To – A Light Framework
    • Ways to grow a small business
    • Tricks to improve your career
    • Methods to get noticed online

We all know how informational lists work. They are one-way transactions. There are no methodologies to be followed and no work to be completed.

It’s in the Actionable category where things start to get tricky, particularly when people mistake the How To for the To Do. They look the same, they smell the same, and we tweet them without having read them the same, but they are immeasurably different.

  • To Do’s use definitive verbs that mean the same thing to everyone: bring, see, buy.
  • How To’s use foofy verbs that mean something different to everyone: grow, improve, get noticed.
  • To Do’s can be completed and then thrown out
  • How To’s need to be repeated and printed out
  • To Do’s are blueprints
  • How To’s are conceptual

The biggest problem with a How To Top 10 list is (If you’ve read this far and weren’t bored that there wasn’t a list to skim):

  1. We expect the list to do the work for us

We Treat the How To like it was a To Do and therefore assume that the list was made to save time and effort when in actuality it’s giving you information on how to work harder and smarter but not necessarily less.

For instance, I can come up with Top 5 Ways To Get Noticed Online, and write:

  1. Comment on blogs similar to yours
  2. Write good content
  3. Link to other people in your articles
  4. Conduct Interviews
  5. Utilize Social Networking

Granted I would write a little more detail below all of these but if you’re trying to digest this while you’re ingesting your lunch, you’re missing 99% of the work that it takes to get noticed online. “Write Good Content”? Write good content can be a 300 page book on its own. Prose, grammar, style, research, focus, practice, edit, iterate, A/B Testing, site design.

Whoa whoa whoa, Bassam. All those things sound like work. I didn’t read your Top 5 list to DO work, I read your list to SKIRT work.

And therein lies the rub.

Treating a How To as a checklist feels good because it has the illusion of being digestible when in reality it’s just scratching the surface.

There is no such thing as cutting corners, there is only taking corners smarter.

It’s “Top 10 Ways To Become a Formula 1 Driver”, but what we really wished it would say is: “Top 10 Simple Tricks to Hijack an F1 Car Right Before the Finish Line to Steal All the Glory of Winning the Race.” After all, that’s why we clicked on it when we had 2 minutes to kill, right?

See any How To lists masking themselves as To Do lists out there?

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