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Book Summary – Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less

What do you do when there’s not enough time/energy to do everything you need to do? Many people simply bulldoze their way through, pushing themselves to the brink of burnout and jeopardizing both their results and health. Well, there’s a better way. Our world is actually made up of countless systems which can be separated and managed in smaller sub-systems. By learning to see, dissect, analyze and perfect the systems in all aspects of your life, you can multiply your results with much less effort and stress. In this free Work the System summary, we’ll outline Sam Carpenter’s simple mechanics of making more and working less.

Introduction: Work the System

Sam Carpenter struggled for a large part of his early career, trying to make ends meet with different jobs. Then in 1984, at the age of 35, Carpenter he a small telephone answering service (TAS) and renamed it Centratel. For the next 15 years, his life was in utter chaos as he struggled to keep the business afloat and bring up 2 young kids after his divorce. Each time new problems came up, he’d work harder. He was perpetually tired and stressed, and his life seemed to be spinning out of control.

Then, just as the business was on the brink of collapse, he had an epiphany. He realized that the world is a network of separate systems that could be individually perfected. Once Carpenter switched to a systems mindset, things steadily improved. He shifted from 100-hour workweeks to 2-hour workweeks while his monthly income grew by 20x.

In our Work the System summary, we’ll explain how to see things from an enlightened systems perspective, and how you can use systems to transform your work and life. We’ll briefly outline these ideas in this article. Do get a copy of our full 13-page summary for more details.

Part 1: The Systems Mindset

We live in a world of systems. Everything—from how your body works to how goods/services are delivered—are actually systems at work. Unfortunately, most of us take such systems for granted. We aren’t even aware of them until the systems fail and things don’t go according to our expectations. So, the first step is to adopt a Systems Mindset: become consciously aware of how systems work so you can start to master them.

Work the System summary_Systems Mindset overviewIn our complete book summary, we elaborate more on on:

  • Why you should work the system, and the broad principles behind why/how to (i) see the systems at work, (ii) break things down into their sub-systems and work on your Circle of Influence, and (iii) shift from fire-fighting to fire-prevention. Essentially, when you identify and fix the underlying systemic cause, the problems go away permanently and you only have to spend a fraction of the time/effort to maintain the systems thereafter.
  • How Carpenter arrived at his “aha” moment and transformed his business and life from a perpetual crisis to one of systematic improvement.
  • How you can get started with a simple exercise to get a bird’s eye view of your work/life and literally see new insights and solutions you previously missed.

Part 2: Develop & Manage your Systems

How can you start to design and manage your life systems? In our full book summary, you can get a step-by-step breakdown of the 3 steps involved:

  1. Define your overarching goals and strategies: Get clear on what your systems should achieve.
  2. Work the system by (i) dissecting, analyzing, and repairing them and (ii) documenting each system, so you can remove dysfunctional systems, improve/perfect the functional ones and align all your sub-systems to serve your Strategic Objective; and
  3. Maintain your systems continually.

By the end of the process, you’d have created 3 key sets of documents—Strategic Objective, General Operating Principles, Working Procedures—and can use them to maintain/improve your systems with just a fraction of the time/effort.  This will give you a peace of mind and phenomenally more money, time and energy on a recurring basis.

Work the System summary_develop and manage systems

Get our full Work the System summary in text/infographic/audio formats for more details, examples and specific tips on each of these 3 steps.

Obviously, this process will take time and effort.  Just start by prioritizing 1-2 hours daily to work on your procedures. As your new procedures solve problems and save time, you’ll have more time and motivation to keep going.

Work the System in all aspects of Work and Life

Systems can be used to improve any aspect of work and life. In the book, Carpenter also shared how he used systems to diagnose and improve his health condition, and to guide his life/business. You can get a detailed overview of some of these principles from our complete 13-page summary, including principles/tips on overcoming procrastination, bringing out the best in your team, and improving personal effectiveness.

Getting the Most from Work the System

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 13-page text summary, and a 25-minute audio summary.

Work the System summary - book summary bundle

The book focuses primarily on Carpenter’s personal experience, perspectives and epiphanies, including examples about Centratel and samples of its systems documentation. Carpenter invites you to copy or adapt them for your own uses. You can purchase the book here for the full details, or check out more resources/details at

About the Author of Work the System

Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less is written by Sam Carpenter–an American author and entrepreneur with a background in engineering, management, publishing, and journalism. He’s the president and CEO of Centratel, and the founder of Work the System Consultants and PathwayOne.

Work the System Quotes

“Your existence is composed of countless linear systems, many of which are under your direct command. These are the invisible threads that hold the fabric of your life together.”

“Life is not a snapshot. It’s a real-time, streaming video—and the video plays on whether we understand it or not.”

“Your job is not to be a fire killer. Your job is to prevent fires.”

“The leader’s role is to keep the wheels of the machine turning with maximum efficiency.”

“If each component of an organization is nearly flawless, the organization as a whole will be nearly flawless.”

“To see your systems, you must step outside of them.”

“We devise a fix for the cause of an inefficiency. We don’t just fix the inefficiency.”

Click here to download the Work the System summary & infographic

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