Book Review- Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less

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I just got done reading Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less.

And it’s awesome.

Here’s why.


The overall purpose of the book is to highlight the importance of creating systems. Most of the book focuses on business systems, although there are a few references to personal ones as well.

For example, one system might be how your customer service handles a certain kind of phone call. As the book describes, the system is a series of steps: 1-2-3-4 result. While the system may (and probably does) have more than 4 steps, you understand the concept. By breaking everything down and making a set of guidelines that anyone off the street can follow, you create a business that is much less chaotic.

The less chaotic it is, the easier it runs. And when it runs easier, everyone is better off.

  • Customers get consistently high, top quality service
  • Money isn’t “lost” or mismanaged
  • Efficiency goes way up
  • Emergencies (otherwise known as fires) don’t break out nearly as often
  • Everyone, from the top level manager to front line employees, work fewer hours
  • Etc.

My undergraduate degree was in Industrial and Systems Engineering, so I’m a little biased towards the whole concept. But Sam Carpenter breaks down everything in a way I’ve never seen before, making it one of the best business and productivity books I’ve ever read.

It’s All About the Systems

To introduce the reader to systems, Sam highlights the fact that systems are what make the world run. For example, let’s look at what happens to get your breakfast bagel into your hands in the morning.

  1. A farmer grows the wheat
  2. The farmer harvests the wheat
  3. The wheat is packed into a manageable method of transport
  4. A transportation company ships the wheat to a bakery
  5. The wheat is unloaded
  6. The bakery loads the wheat, along with other ingredients onto the manufacturing line
  7. After going through the line, you have your bagel. Huzzah!
  8. …well, not really. The bakery now has to pack up the bagel.
  9. …and it’s transported to a distributor.
  10. Then the distributor transports it to your grocery store.
  11. The grocery store unloads it, then puts it on the shelf.
  12. You get in your car, turn it on, etc. and drive to the store.
  13. You walk in the store to get your cart.
  14. …walk to the aisle.
  15. Pick up the bagels.
  16. Go check out.
  17. Drive home.
  18. And enjoy your bagel! After unwrapping it, toasting it, putting butter on it, etc.

….hopefully you’re still with me. I can’t blame the people that left without reading all of that.

The point is that there are dozens of systems in place just to get a freaking bagel onto your kitchen table. And the world is full of much more complicated systems!

By optimizing these systems, you’re optimizing the results. No matter what kind of business you’re in, taking care of the systems will take care of everything else.

Every Successful Person Manages Systems

Sam references in the book that most successful people such as CEOs didn’t get there because they’re smarter or work harder than everyone else. Instead, they just learned how to manage systems to get the best results.

From everything I’ve read and seen in my own life, I have to agree.

Part of that also comes from reading the books and blogs of very successful people. For example, Ramit Sethi is a huge advocate of systems. Tim Ferris has a daily morning ritual that helps him start off the day right. Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning is entirely devoted on getting your day started right through systems and habits.

Systems work because they take out all of the guesswork. They help everyone involved operate faster and ensure the right thing is done.

Every. Single. Time.

My Own Experience with Systems

When I was in the Air Force, I worked closely with a maintenance department for a while. This group of people would completely take the aircraft apart and build it back up- something called depot maintenance.

As you’d imagine, there are thousands and thousands of different procedures. Each procedure is essentially a system, and you repeat it from one aircraft to the next.

If that system isn’t optimized, what do you think happens? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • Tools get left on the airplane (in places that can cause bad things.)
  • Necessary parts aren’t available.
  • Critical technicians aren’t around when they’re need most (due to scheduling conflicts.)
  • Teams get behind schedule.
  • Parts are installed incorrectly.
  • Other parts aren’t inspected as thoroughly as they should be (or maybe too thoroughly.)
  • Etc.

The Air Force realized there are tons of potential issues in these systems, so they started a program to go back and re-evaluate them. I initiated and led a program designed to do just that, as these inefficient systems lead to huge monetary and manpower losses over time.

That’s why systems are important.

How Are Your Business Systems Going?

If you already spend the majority of your time managing business systems- whether you’re a CEO or on the front lines- that’s great.

But the vast majority of people don’t. They spend all day putting out fires, ignoring what’s actually starting all the fires in the first place.

If you feel like that’s you- you need this book. And even if you don’t feel like that’s you and you’re doing okay, read it anyways. Work the System is so chock-full of examples and strategies that there’s no way you won’t learn a thing or two to help you in your job or business.