Podcast review: Back to Work #88 – So Many Reasons To Cry
Rating: 3 / 5
Back to Work can be a frustrating podcast. Featuring productivity guru Merlin Mann and interlocutor Dan Benjamin, the podcast is ostensibly about strategies for getting good work done, and dealing with the challenges and barriers that can impede. The show clearly targets knowledge workers and artists, people whose work requires a great deal of self-motivation and organization, where productivity relies less on immediate deadlines or supervisory force.
The frustrating part of the podcast comes from the unique chemistry between Benjamin–who owns/runs the 5by5 podcast network that hosts Back to Work–and Mann, who has a very quick wit, but takes a good amount of time to come into focus. As the hosts themselves often admit, I can only imagine that the first time listener to current episode would have a difficult time catching on to the often esoteric banter. Each episode typically clocks in around 90 to 120 minutes, and Mann and Benjamin typically spend anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes at the start of the episode riffing on what’s going on in their lives, comic books, seltzer water, bathrooms, other minor annoyances and inside jokes. Many longtime listeners probably enjoy this aspect, in part because it makes them feel part of the club, in the same way that sci-fi fans love TV and movie series that require dedicated viewing to really get.
I will admit that there are episodes that I don’t finish because the opening banter goes too long, and is too ADHD for my taste. Other times the banter is clever and entertaining. Episode #88 “So Many Reasons to Cry,” is one of the latter types. In fact, the opening banter only lasts about 20 minutes before the hosts get down to business. Even the meat of it comes about from a discussion that seemed like it was going to be a tangent, as Benjamin and Mann discuss an open source twitter alternative called App.net. But the conversation evolves to explore how twitter has changed over the years, and therefore, how they use it, and how the kind of value they find in it for their work, has changed.
The rest of the episode is dedicated to continuing their discussion of “grit,” which started in the previous episode. Grit is the quality many researchers and writers have identified as being important to a person’s long-term success in an endeavor; it describes the ability to stick with something even when it is challenging or discouraging. Mann claims that “you’re so goddamned smart and you haven’t made anything cool yet,” grit may be a part of it. The conversation then goes on to explore how confidence and intuition also play into it.
This episode is a better one for the uninitiated to start with than many other recent episodes. However, most episodes are relatively evergreen, so I’d recommend that new listeners start with the first dozen episodes (especially #1, #5 & #6) before leaping into the newer ones.
Despite the occasional frustrations, I continue to find both entertainment and food for thought listening to Back to Work, and make it part of my weekly podcast diet, despite its often epic length.