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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#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


#114: I'm Moving to FudgePacker

April 16, 2013 at 7:00PM • 1 hour 21 minutes

TOPIC: Quicksilver and the OS X App Launcher Landscape

This week, Dan triumphantly returns from two weeks of crippling illness. So, the boys ease their way back into the groove with a grab bag of great follow-up, some Adventure Time talk, and a longer discussion of popular OS X App launchers, including Quicksilver 1.0, LaunchBar, and Alfred 2.


#113: Entropy's Gonna Do Its Business

April 2, 2013 at 2:30PM • 1 hour 21 minutes

TOPIC: Drafts for iOS, and Who You Want to Be

This week, Dan and Merlin cover two very different topics.

First, there's a detailed discussion of one of Merlin's favorite iOS apps, Drafts, including a deep dive on the app's extraordinary interactions with everything from Twitter to calendars to Dropbox.

Second, Dan and Merlin have an A-plus conversation on the hardest question you’ll ask yourself this week: “Is this who I want to be?”


#112: Touching Pizza and Robotron

March 26, 2013 at 5:45PM • 1 hour 34 minutes

TOPIC: Choosing Your Forks.

This week, Dan and Merlin talk about some of the deeper and more slippery issues behind changes in our career and life.

In particular, how do we go from a vague tickle to that feeling of full-blown intolerability that can end up driving a change? Are we looking backward at what we should be doing as we slavishly catalog our many petty aggrievements? Or, do we take two giant steps back and apply a cooler eye to what we really want to do next?

Even before we find our forks in the road, how can we know a big decision might or should be coming our way? And, how do we stay current on that never-ending need to accept and plan for the changes we never could have anticipated?

It's tough at 23, it's super-hard at 30, and, brother, is it ever murder at 50.

Sure, it's a little fruity, but, yeah: you need to write the story you really want to live. Rather than just cobbling together a flattering post-mortem on how you magically ended up where you are.


#111: You Get There Early for Pancake Day

March 19, 2013 at 4:15PM • 1 hour 18 minutes

TOPIC: Memory.

This week, Dan and Merlin try to tackle the complexities of memory.

Why do we remember things from childhood with unimpeachable detail, but then forget our own phone number or PIN code? How can the same person remember the name of everyone he's ever met, and then space a phone call a couple hours after it was scheduled? Why do we remember and why do we forget?

Unsurprisingly, few concrete answers appear, but there's plenty of lively conversation on savant syndrome, tactical memory aides, and the precise location of Merlin's pills.


#110: Okay, Then.

March 12, 2013 at 8:00AM • 1 hour 42 minutes

TOPIC: Stupidity.

This week, Dan and Merlin tackle stupidity. And, brother, there sure are a whole lot of flavors of stupid.

Are we really talking about being clueless, unaware, dumb, absent-minded, or just plain-old ignorant? Because they're actually pretty different animals.

Whether you're dropping your library book in the mailbox, leaving your iPad at home, following baseless medical advice, or doing whatever Dan did with his garage door (don't worry: the car is fine), it's really helpful to understand where your real problem really lives.

From a tactical standpoint, try some useful failsafes, rituals, and habits. But, at a higher level, learn to develop the curiosity to keep evolving. Stay open to how you might be wrong by always seeking out the smartest person you can find who disagrees with you.