Summary: Work the System by Sam Carpenter

Preface and IntroductionWork The System Book Cover

In Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, Author Sam Carpenter certainly identifies with the “blue-collar” worker. He has previously worked in a smattering of industries including the construction (as a land surveyor, heavy-equipment operator, house painter, ditch-digger, logger, and mill worker), in sales (door-to-door, department store clerk, real estate), business (as a stock and commodities investor, corporate CEO, retail store owner), and in mass communication (photojournalism, telecommunications, publishing, and writing). Having employment credentials in so many fields unquestionably makes Carpenter an authority on business so readers can trust the information in his book.

The text begins with a preface and introduction on the author’s unique ideology of working the system. Rather than finding unscrupulous loopholes in the business field, Carpenter offers genuine advice on how to incorporate the necessity of working for a living into a fulfilling and holistic lifestyle that incorporates your work but not letting it dictate your everyday life. The author isn’t offering manipulative strategies to cheat the system and avoid hard work, but rather the author is a champion for the working class—he just wants you to do it smartly.

The Table of Contents is comprehensive, including general chapter headings as well as more detailed sub-categories of emphasis. The introduction is particularly considerate, summarizing the book’s major takeaway points for those who either don’t have time to read the entire text or for those who want a quick refresher. The author even provides his own set of definitions to frequently-referenced terms so the reader will have a concise understanding of the author’s discourse. Also helpful, at the end of most chapters Carpenter has included real-life examples helping to illustrate the central idea of the sections. Most of these are casual observations and anecdotal stories drawing directly from the author’s experiences and fully illustrate the author’s step-by-step processes outlined among the text.

Part One: The Systems Mindset: Lifestyle Changes & Developing Your Vision Statement

Carpenter’s first suggestion at remodeling one’s work rationalism is to identify your attitude. In Part One of the book, he argues there are two psychological approaches responsible for contributing to one’s life; the first being that a person’s past, including our mindset and the choices made—and consequences of—that behavior dictates our present life. The second approach is more cognitive, ascertaining that the past is forever gone, and that our decisions and attitude of the present are a more accurate determinant of our future. Carpenter offers that the latter approach empowers the employee to take control of his pursuits and to adopt his own work system to prepare and maintain. He argues that the deliberate preparation of one’s individual work system should be looked at as more of an investment on a future rather than an immediate payout.

Additionally, Carpenter explains the process of how to develop these individual principles, including a vision statement and operating rules. With an emphasis on keeping things simple, Carpenter suggests readers should identify the aspects of their work that can be shaped. For example, an outcome cannot be manipulated but the individual characteristics of a plan or task—the details—can be parsed out and tackled outright. Then the outcome will follow.

Lifestyle adjustments are essential to work the system. Carpenter expounds this idea my emphasizing the need to maintain even our physical system: the human body. He recommends reducing alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake and advocates a healthy physical lifestyle by exercising, eating smartly, and getting enough sleep. Carpenter also encourages a healthy internal lifestyle, such as knowing when to take a mental break from work and do something as simple as reading a book.

Part Two: Make it So: Procedural Documentation

The next section of Work the System includes documentation of your system. First, one should create a Strategic Objective—aka your personal “Declaration of Independence. This is essentially a set of guidelines that assists you during the decision-making process. Next one needs to create a set of operating principles and working procedures. Carpenter astutely argues, “First you work your systems. Then your systems do the work.” There will obviously be a lot of time dedicated in the backend of the system, however once it is developed; much of the system—or business—will run smoothly.

Developing documented working procedures for your system is essential to the quality of the execution of your project(s). By documenting clear working procedures, the system is tangible and attainable. Carpenter offers, “An effective process must be set in concrete, and that means creating it in hard and/or soft copy, distributing it, and then ensuring that it is implemented.” Additionally, establishing working procedures are the responsibility of a successful manager. Clearly defining objectives is a moral and ethical obligation of a manger to his staff; it isn’t fair to expect employees to follow guidelines when they don’t exist.

Carpenter’s three suggestions for creating successful working procedures are: 1) to use the “best solution” available to approach an obstacle, 2) that documentation should be expanded to include external as well as internal processes, and 3) to document your procedures so that anyone, including someone unfamiliar with your organization, can understand. Carpenter elaborates that by detailing procedures in terminology the layperson can understand, you (the manager) can better off-set your own workload and those tasks/steps can be performed by essentially anyone in the organization. And while a step-by-step procedure documentation might take some time initially, it will be worthwhile in the end as it save time immediately upon implementation with the group. Your staff training will flow smoother and your staff will have a firm grasp of how the processes work; in turn, your staff will be more enthusiastic and have a sense of ownership in the organization.

Part Three: Further Considerations & Key Takeaway Points

In the final section of his book, Carpenter offers encouraging suggestions for further considerations, like knowing when “okay” is enough rather than striving for perfection. He introduces the idea of the “Good Enough” rule, arguing that the time poured into creating the perfect procedure or document won’t necessarily pay off as there is no such thing as a perfect procedure. Details are great, yet the author discourages unnecessary time allocated to over-perfecting a business task of system.

The author concludes with advice on time management. Coining the term “Biological Prime Time”—or “BPT” for short—the human body and mind are only conditioned for a set amount of “peak time” productive hours each day. Learning when your BPT is and taking advantage of those hours each day can contribute to a more successful business. This is where Carpenter revisits his lifestyle management section when he discouraged the use of alcohol and caffeine as these are direct mood adjusters that can throw off one’s BPT.

Carpenter acknowledges the challenges that a typical “Western World” adult faces with 8-hour non-stop workdays and family management, yet demonstrates the fundamental difference between a job and a business. With a job, the “key indicator” is that you have to “show up.” However with a business, you are operating under constant idea of productivity. When you manage your business you find ways to make more and work less, never neglecting the business but rather, strategically working so that every move is productive and beneficial to the success of the business.

Get Work the System on Amazon.


  • Chris Darling

    Chris is a busy mom of two, who loves to tinker with computers and read in her free time. Her knowledge of what it takes to start up a business especially businesses that operate on the internet has helped many people from around the world. Chris often shares her experience as an online entrepreneur and business coach, speaking at events all over about how she created multiple successful businesses and profitable websites. She also offers advice on how people can build their own business website or blog for very little money, while still maintaining quality content. [email protected] Darling Chris


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