Back to Work

Back to Work

Back to Work is an award winning talk show with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more.

Hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin.


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#124: The Tuesday Afternoon Version of Me

June 23, 2013 at 8:00PM • 49 minutes

TOPIC: The Chinese Symbol for 'Pants' Inside of The Chinese Symbol for 'Jury Duty.'

This week, Dan's away, so Merlin goes solo, taking a break from jury duty to talk about the opportunities that can be hiding inside change, inconvenience, and tumult.


#123: I Want to See Your Face the Whole Time (LIVE)

June 11, 2013 at 5:00PM • 1 hour 29 minutes

TOPIC: First Meeting, Gifts, and Grifts

This week—after 122 episodes, plus almost a decade of internet pal-dom—Dan and Merlin finally meet and record in a room together for the first time.

With only passing nods to the nominal topic of "gifts," Dan and Merlin mostly get to know each other.

Why is Dan staring so penetratingly at Merlin? Does Dan think Merlin is fat as well as old? Why does Dan keep looking at his phone? Does that look clean to you? Whose show is it, really? Is John Siracusa slender or sickly? Why can't I show you the sole of my shoe? Should we stand up? Who am I thinking of? Is it hot in here or is it just me? Which one am I?

Also, bathrooms.

Inarguably, a Very Important Episode™.


#122: The Crowbar of Loyalty

June 4, 2013 at 4:30PM • 1 hour 46 minutes

TOPIC: Loyalty, Altruism, Reality Check, or Extortion?

This week, Dan and Merlin talk about what we talk about when we talk about "loyalty."


#121: I Just Had a Dog Delivered

May 28, 2013 at 5:00PM • 1 hour 9 minutes

TOPIC: Dan's Recent Bathroom Incident, et al.

This week, Dan and Merlin exhale. Don't search for secret doors.


#120: Egg MacGuffin

May 21, 2013 at 3:00PM • 1 hour 36 minutes

TOPIC: What would you do differently if you had a "safety net?"

This week, Dan and Merlin congratulate their pal, Marco, on the acquisition of a company he helped co-found.

Which leads to the nominal topic: what kind of safety net would you need to feel secure, do the things you'd like, and mostly banish the more persistent cumulonimbus clouds of your own anxiety?

Many angles are explored. Why was Elvis unhappy? How is habitual Schadenfreude and automatic bile ensmallening our culture? Can we ever be—let alone feel—truly secure? And, how much of our old selves do we end up lugging along inside every suitcase we carry?

Pretty great episode. Especially if you like the ones where Merlin gets all mad. Those are usually good ones.


#119: Big Bag of Pandora's Potatoes

May 14, 2013 at 4:30PM • 1 hour 28 minutes

TOPIC: Macintosh Nostalgia and Utter Apple ID Madness.

This week, after an entirely appropriate amount of very important follow-up, Dan and Merlin talk about Susan Kare's original Mac icons, why they're not going to be appearing on John Siracusa's t-shirt, plus the litany of completely monkeyballs problems that now has Merlin ready to literally shoot his Apple ID in the back of the head, mob-style.


#118: One-Step Corn Kerneler

May 7, 2013 at 4:00PM • 1 hour 35 minutes

TOPIC: Toward an (Admittedly Dubious) Unified Field Theory of Creativity

This week, Dan and Merlin consider a framework for understanding the basic modes and focal lengths involved in producing creative work.

Why and how do we get so hung up and frustrated about getting good at what we do? Why's it so hard to take an abstract idea for making something great, then end up feeling pathologically stymied when we struggle to actually make it?

The boys return to the classic topic of expertise, especially the frustrating ironies that separate the pro from the amateur from the, as they say, "failure."

Also under consideration is Roger Von Oech's fascinating modal, character-based approach to making stuff—acknowledging the very different work of the Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior. But, critically, also striving to keep those characters in the right order and on the right parts of the right task at the right time. Then, knowing when to change things up.

Finally, there's a bit of discussion on Merlin's squirrely obsession with focal length—to not only choose the right mode at the right time, but to stay open to the idea of alternately zooming way out and way in at each step of the process. Accepting the benefits and trade-offs of switching between your macro and fish-eye lenses.

It's a really good episode—at least way better than it sounds. And, the hosts agree that, until you find a better model for understanding How to Make Stuff, you could do a lot worse than giving this admittedly Byzantine method a spin for yourself.


#117: The Flu Shots of Siracusa County

April 30, 2013 at 3:15PM • 1 hour 31 minutes

TOPIC: Offices, and when to get out of them.

This week—in what will surely be remembered as the greatest Back to Work episode of all time—Dan and Merlin eventually talk about working at a desk and when to take it someplace else.


#116: Beagle Removal Service

April 29, 2013 at 3:30PM • 1 hour 34 minutes

TOPIC: Quit & Analyze, and Marvel Character Speculation.

This week, Dan and Merlin talk about Dan's "Quit & Analyze" episode, then proceed into a very useful conversation about which characters from the Marvel Universe they're each most like.


#115: Invitation to a Blame Party

April 26, 2013 at 2:00PM • 1 hour 39 minutes

TOPIC: Fixing the Culture of Meetings

This week, Dan and Merlin address the problems with meetings, and how we can each choose to improve them.

Ten quick ideas?

  1. Purpose
  2. Agenda
  3. Grazing Policy
  4. Hard Edges
  5. Scheduling Guests
  6. Timekeeper
  7. No Ratholes
  8. Focus
  9. Follow-Up
  10. Consistency