in: Career, Career & Wealth, Podcast

• Last updated: September 28, 2021

Podcast #175: How to Improve Your Work and Life With Systems

Are you an entrepreneur or a manager, and feel like every day at work you’re just putting out fires? Or in your personal life, do you go home and it’s just crisis after crisis that needs fixing? Our typical response to managing the chaos is to get more efficient at putting out those fires. What if the real answer though is not greater efficiency, but instead looking at your life as a series of systems? That’s what today’s guest, Sam Carpenter, argues in his book Work The System. Today on the show we discuss how to approach work and life with a systems mindset.

Show Highlights

  • How most people manage their work and life (and why it often leads to less effective results)
  • What a “systems mindset” is and how to develop it
  • Why you’re always creating systems even if you don’t realize it
  • Why documenting your systems is important
  • Why systems are better than goals at achieving results you want
  • How to implement systems in an already existing organization
  • What “point of sales” thinking is and how it can make your day more efficient
  • And much more!

Book cover, work the system by Sam carpenter.

If you’re a business owner or manager, I highly recommend Work the SystemWe’ve been applying the principles from the book over here at the Art of Manliness in order to get a better handle on all the moving parts that keep the site going and growing. You can find the book on Amazon, but Sam has made it available for free at his website Work The System. You can get it in PDF or audio.

If you’re looking for more insights on how to use systems to improve your personal life, check out his book The Systems Mindset. Again, Sam has made that available for free in PDF format at The Systems Mindset.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Do you own a business? Or maybe you don’t even own a business. Maybe you’re a manager or an executive at a business at work and you feel like every day at work you’re just putting out fires. Every day it’s just crises you’re putting out Or even in your personal life it could be the same thing: You go home and it’s just like crisis after crisis after crisis and you’re just always putting these fires out. You get better; you try to manage these fires by getting more efficient with your fire-putting-outing, right, by using to-do lists and productivity tools.

What if the answer, instead of getting more efficient with putting out fires, would be to look at your business and your life as a series of systems and working on making those systems more efficient. That’s what my guest today argues. His name is Sam Carpenter. He’s the author of the book Work the System and he’s also a business owner himself. In Work the System he talks about systemizing your business so things run on its own and you don’t have to worry about putting out fires. Instead you can work on tweaking your system so things run more smoothly.

What’s interesting, you don’t have to be a business owner to get something out of this book. You can apply the big-picture principles to your own life and find ways to systemize your life, and so instead of putting out fires you can just work on managing systems in your life. Really practical book. I read the book. I’ve gotten a lot out of it in my own business and my own life. Without further ado, Sam Carpenter and Work the System. Sam Carpenter, welcome to the show.

Sam Carpenter: Thanks, Brett. I’m really glad to be here today.

Brett McKay: You are a business owner. You own several businesses. You’re also an author and you published this book that I read and it’s phenomenal, it has really helped me in my own business, called “Work the System.” Before we talk about what Work the System is and what it means to approach business and life with a systems mindset, let’s talk about this: How do most people approach their business or their life in trying to manage it?

Sam Carpenter: Most people just plunge into the day. They plunge into the day without, I could say, without a plan, but they plunge into the day into this mass of sights, sounds and events and try to get through it and accomplish some kind of a goal, and they’re fire-killing all through the day. That’s how most people get through the day. From the moment they start to get dressed to the end of the day, they’re pretty much fire-killing. What that means is they’re going in a lot of different directions, and the problem with that is that people perceive the world as a confused mass of sights, sounds and events, and they just jump into the middle of it. That’s incorrect. That’s not how the world is. It isn’t that; it’s a collection of separate systems, processes, and they all make sense, but until you can see those separate processes, you can’t wade through and straighten things out. That’s what I learned at 50 years of age, was to look at the world in a different way and that included seeing life as a collection of separate processes, because that’s exactly what it is.

Brett McKay: Give us the example of that. You talk about this is the systems mindset: seeing life as a group or as separate, discreet systems, basically. How is that different from, say, productivity and time management tools that a lot of folks use? I guess, the productivity tool, does that help people put out fires faster, and then a systems mindset is like, “Don’t even put out the fires?”

Sam Carpenter: No. Actually, no. What it is, is you go a layer deeper from all the productivity tools, and all the top ten tips, and all this. You go a layer deeper to mechanical reality. You have to start with mechanical reality and this is important. Mechanical reality isn’t a big confused mass just because we perceive it that way. This is really important. In the first part of Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, my book, the first part talks about the systems mindset in this different viewpoint of the world which is more accurate. What that is, let’s take a car for example, everybody knows … Well, we can take a human body. I’ll do both. A car, what does the radio have to do with the air conditioner?

Brett McKay: Nothing.

Sam Carpenter: Zero. Nothing. What does the steering wheel have to do with the brakes, or the transmission, really, with the engine? Nothing. Are they connected? Yes, they’re connected. In your body, what does your kidney have to do with your lungs? Zero. I know they’re connected. I know they all come together to make a human being, but our bodies have circulatory systems, neurological systems, skeletal systems, kidneys, stomachs. All these separate, independent entities make up a human body, and you can apply to anything, Brett. First is … and here’s one. People get it when I say this: If you go out on your bicycle, and fall down, and break your leg, I’ll guarantee you the paramedics who pick you up are not going to take you to a dermatologist. So you have specialists in medicine. You have specialists with cars.

That is a layer deeper. That’s the reality of the world. It is not a confused mass, and the cool thing is, if you take these things apart, if you take your life apart, for instance, if you’re in a house and you go to the kitchen and turn the water on, I’ll bet you 99.9% of the time the water is going to come out. Or if you go to start your car, it’s probably going to start, and if you’re starting your car to go from A to B, there’s a 99.9% chance you’re going to get there.

What happens when you break your life down into the mechanical reality and you start seeing reality for what it really is, this is real kind of metaphysical stuff but it’s reality. You start breaking things down; you see these separate systems almost always work perfectly. Our bodies, let’s take my body: My body is sitting here, talking to you and communicating with you. I have billions of cells all agreeing they are Sam Carpenter, and every second there’s trillions of electrical signals going off, allowing me to communicate, allowing me to move my hands around. That’s happening every second. That is a miracle, and so this big miracle people are looking for out there, “Ah, I have to become enlightened. I have to do this,” no, no, no: It’s right in front of your face when you get up for breakfast. It’s there at night when you go back to bed. It’s all during the day. The miracle is right now, and that is the perfection of the universe.

The pretty cool thing, I spent the last decade fixing businesses. That’s what I do: turn around businesses. We go in. We help the owner of the business see that his business is 99.9% fine or it’s just a few things there that are really gumming the works: “Let me just finish by saying this: There isn’t that much to fix.” Let’s say there’s a successful businessman. He’s got a beautiful wife. He’s got a couple of great kids. He’s making big dollars. Everything’s really perfect except for one thing, and that’ll blow everything. You can guess what that is: He’s an alcoholic.

The truth is, everything could be a lot closer to perfect and a lot less chance of going over the brink of destruction if he just stopped drinking. It’s a very simple thing. That’s just one illustration. Within a business, it could be you got your brother-in-law working in your business and it’s not working out: He’s not doing his job. He’s not showing up on time, and the business is really going to heck. What’s the solution? The brother-in-law needs to leave.

It’s the same with fixing the human body, or the car, or whatever. I was coming over the pass yesterday, Brett, over here to Portland where I am, from very dry Bend, Oregon. I had had the garage change the oil in my car and put new wipers on my car, and as I came over the pass, the wipers were going, “clank, clank, clank, clank,” and I was just cursing, “They put the wrong wipers on,” I thought. It was ruining my trip. I was trying to listen to the radio, book on tape. It was just ruining my whole experience. I pulled over, got out of the car. One of the blades hadn’t been put on properly. I just had to pull it up and snap it into place, and everything was perfect. That’s a good illustration from yesterday, literally that happened yesterday, coming over in the rain, that your whole life could be really, really messed up if one of those separate systems is dysfunctional, just one.

There isn’t that much to fix but you’ve got to be able to isolate it. If you’re having trouble in your business, you can get a book on the top ten things that a successful business person does, but more often than not, it evades the problem, which might be this or it might be that. If you can see the world as a collection of separate processes, then you can easily isolate the problem process, and because you’ve isolated it, it usually is a very simple process and it’s easy to fix. Then you fixed it, reinserted it into the thing, into your business, and then you go on to the next dysfunctional system.

That’s what I did 16 years ago to repair my business, to take it from a … I was working 100 hours a week. I work 80 to 100 hours a week, Brett, for 15 years. That’s 15. I didn’t make any money, single parent of two kids, and overnight I got this idea. I won’t go into it here, but I got this idea that maybe I wasn’t seeing life correctly, and that is is a collection of separate systems. Everything changed from that moment on, and that’s what my book is about, both my books. My new book is about that too.

Brett McKay: Getting metaphysical here, so there are systems going on your life or your business even if you are not aware of it, right? You might have created systems without even being aware that you’ve created a system, correct? Is that what you’re saying?

Sam Carpenter: I can tell that you read my new book, Brett, because that’s exactly right. The systems are operating whether you know it or not, whether you see them or not, or whether you like it or not. The systems of your life are operating.

Brett McKay: So if things aren’t going right, then it means you might have a faulty system? I guess you say that in both books, that systems do what they’re designed to do. They function the way they’re supposed to, so if something’s not going right that you don’t like, the output, you change the system, right?

Sam Carpenter: It’s all mechanical. It’s totally mechanical. The system doesn’t care whether you make out or whether you don’t make out. I don’t care what kind of a system it is, a relationship system or what I call a “soft system”, an organic system, if there’s a kink in the system, the beautiful part about life on earth is that there’s this thing called “mechanical reality and the laws of physics.” If the system is not going to create the result you want, then you need to go in and there’s some element of that system that you need to tweak.

Or if your life isn’t going the way you want it to go there maybe some whole system you need to eliminate altogether. The mantra is this: “Automate. Delegate. Delete.” The gut that drinks too much, he just needs to stop drinking. He needs to stop the drinking system and then work down and take the next problem, and the next problem, and the next problem. But they’re there. They’re working 24/7 whether you manage them or not, is what I’m talking about.

Brett McKay: Right, so the systems mindset is just like starting to see life as a series of systems. It’s like taking that sort of, you [take a look 00:12:56] at looking up and [out 00:12:57], right? Because that’s the phrase you use, and looking, and seeing that and being able to, once you have that view, you can start adjusting things to make things more productive or efficient.

Sam Carpenter: Right, exactly, but this has to be said: This is more than Sam’s clever idea or a different way of looking at things. This is looking at things more accurately in your life, so our listeners today, Brett, I challenge them right now to look around the room and see the separate systems. There may be a phone over here. Maybe it’s in the living room. There may be a TV over here, but out in the kitchen there’s a refrigerator. We see that they’re all separate. That’s mechanical reality. It isn’t this big conglomeration.

You can call it a “home,” but that isn’t the way to fix things in your home. That isn’t the way to fix things in your body. The reality of life, the actual reality, and this is why I say it’s sort of metaphysical but it isn’t really, it’s really mechanical reality that life is a collection of separate systems. Anywhere you look, whether it’s the car, your body, your business, your relationships, separate systems. Yes, they are connected. I don’t deny that, but you’re not going to get anywhere until you can see these separate systems.

I drive down the street here to this office building on the sixth floor on 12th Street in Portland, Oregon. As I drive down the street I don’t see a street, and buildings, and the city of Portland; I see all the separate things going on. That’s just my mindset. It’s embedded. It’s been embedded for 17 years, since that night in 1999 when I kind of got a grasp of this not deeper reality: the reality that I wasn’t seeing before.

Brett McKay: Got you. In thinking back to business, I guess there’s all sorts of systems going on in a business, whether how someone manages customer support, how a company manages communications, et cetera, and I guess a lot of people don’t even think of it as a system. They just start doing it, right? They do it a certain way and that’s the way they do it, but what they’ve done is they’ve created a system without knowing it often times.

Sam Carpenter: I love having an interview with a guy that has read my stuff and really gets it. I appreciate that. I want to just throw that in, but yeah, people go to “work.” They go to work and they work all day, but they’re not separating things. They’re killing fires, and this is where we get … And I could get into, I’m running for political office and one of the big things now here are the forests. It’s literal fire-killing because the forests haven’t been managed.

In a business you go in and you manage the systems. For instance, Centratel, my call center, I have about 40 people there. It’s one of my small businesses. All day long you know what my managers do? They work on processes. They work on the processes that create the results, and remember, I said, “Automate. Delegate. Delete.” That’s how you look at your processes, and processes are what my businesses is made up … You’re exactly right, so how you answer the phone has nothing to do with the copier machine not working right, has nothing to do with hiring somebody, has nothing to do with firing somebody. They’re all separate.

What my people do is they work on the processes that need to be improved, tweaked, get caught up with modern technology maybe in the software area. We’re always working on processes. We never “go to work” and do whatever comes up, so we have no fire-killing in my business. They’re just very rare, and if it does happen we love it because it’s a red flag to go into a system and fix it, but it just doesn’t happen very much. We just don’t have many red flags.

It’s the same with my body. I do the yoga. I do the strength training. I do the aerobics stuff. I eat pretty well for a guy, but I eat my protein, if you know what I mean, and I take care of myself. I do the things I need to do with the separate processes and the separate systems of my body, and it functions very well. I could take a chainsaw or go up a tree right now on hooks as anybody can who’s 30 years younger than me, I’m 66, but that’s a process too, is taking care of your body. You have to have a systematic process for taking care of the various elements of your body.

Meditation really has nothing to do with aerobic exercise, of course, but those are separate elements that have to be addressed, right? Relationships too: Sometimes I call somebody and I’m really too tired, but I’ll call them to say, “Hi, how are you doing? Check it out.” I have this group of people called “friends,” so there’s relationship maintenance and tweaking you have to do too. The cool thing about the systems mindset, it applies to every aspect of the world everywhere, every element of it.

Brett McKay: Right. I can see this. Your first book was very geared towards businesses and how to get in the brass tacks of systemizing a business, but the higher-level principles of approaching your entire life with a systems mindset could help a lot with your personal development. I think a lot of people approach personal development as like, “Okay …” They just approach it like, like you said, they just go, “Today I’m going to like eat well today,” and they sort of like, “Okay, I’m going to eat some broccoli. That’s it.”

You’re saying with a systems approach you would actually develop a system that would allow you to eat well, and you wouldn’t have to think about it too much. You just follow the system, correct?

Sam Carpenter: Exactly, right. It doesn’t take willpower once you “get it,” so “Work the System,” my first book about business, has three parts. The first part is getting the systems mindset. Part 2 is about documentation. Part 3 are odds and ends, but once you get Part 1 you’re there. My new book is exactly the same way except it’s two parts. It’s not for business so there’s nothing about documentation, or very little in there about documentation.

Part 1 is getting the systems mindset, and Part 2 is odds and ends. Once you get the systems mindset this thing about diet or exercise or whatever, you just do it naturally. You don’t have to force yourself because you’re seeing the world differently than 99% of all other people. Now, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, we could go down … Oprah Winfrey, of course, Bill Gates, none of these people had college degrees, but they naturally had the systems mindset.

If you ask Bill Gates right now to describe his mindset, he’d say, “What are you talking about?” but he naturally gets it. One out of 100 people naturally see the world as it really is, as a collection of systems, and, “This is what I’ve got to do over here with these processes to get the results I want.” This is critical. Let me take a second for this. Here’s what I call the “ultimate formula.” It’s in my first book and it’s a whole chapter in my second book: One leads to two. Two leads to three. Three leads to four: One to two to three to four equals a result. That’s a real simplification of every process there is in the world.

Every process in the world executes over a period of time and creates a result, a result, and I don’t care what the process is. Again, back to the car, to the body, or whatever, every process leads to a result. You need to spend your time in the one, two, three, four part of that equation. Most people spend their time shuffling around the bad results over on the right-hand side of the formula.

One out of 100 naturally gets the one, two, three, four, and that’s why you have what we call “one-percenters.” That’s why 1% of the population does terrifically well in one area or not. Yes, there’s a lot of one-percenters out there that do very well financially, but their bodies are a wreck. I get that, but as far as their earning money thing, they do get this separate systems mindset.

Anyway, that’s an important element is just to see that the systems mindset is seeing the world more accurately. Then when you do that you naturally take care of your diet. You naturally do these things in your business, and it happens in a moment in time. It happens instantly. You say, “Oh, I get it. I get this thing.” Then you go to work working on the processes, and of course in business that means documentation.

The only difference between a large, successful business and a small, struggling one, I’ll guarantee it 100% of the time, is that the large business has documented. Everybody knows what’s going on within the business. In the small business it’s fire-killing all day long. There’s no process set up. One person does it this way. Another person does it that way, and it’s really inefficient.

Brett McKay: Right, right. In the first book you talk a lot about documentation. Besides increasing efficiencies, I guess the thing that you get out of documenting is that, one, if someone leaves, someone can come off the street, look at the documentation, and do the job, right? I guess the other benefit of documenting things, you can actually look at your process that you do in a business concretely and actually ask yourself, “Is there a better way to do this?” or, “Do we even need to do this? Do we even need to do this thing that we’re doing that we think we need to do? Maybe we don’t need to do that.”

Sam Carpenter: Yeah, there’s magic in writing it down. We have software to help people create this documentation, and there’s other software out there that people have taken off my book and done it their own way. But, for instance, if there’s a 10-step process, take how we answer the phone in my call center at the front desk. There’s seven steps: Put a smile on your face. Pick up the phone, Step . Step #3: what you say exactly.

If you don’t document it, everybody is doing it in a different way, and that is incredibly inefficient. You have to write things down as they are, and there’s something magical about having all seven steps on one piece of paper so you can see all steps. Some of the others, my software competitors, will put one step per page: Step 1. Then you go to the second page to see Step 2. You can’t see the process unless you’ve got one, two, three, four all on one page if you’re going to document it. That’s what you’re talking about, I believe.

Brett McKay: Right.

Sam Carpenter: You look at it and you say, “Wow, why are we doing that?” Or somebody else in your office will look at it and say, “Hey, Step 6 is ridiculous. The reason for Step 6 left the real world years ago. Why are we still doing it that way?” You don’t see those things until you write it down. Boring but true, and people hate doing documentation but it is the key to success, is to get thing down on paper, get we call it “bottom-up,” people who are on the front lines, the salespeople, the production people. Always, you want to always have them contributing to the process, contributing to the working procedure.

Then the beautiful part about that is it’s the best possible working procedure or SOP that you could possibly put together, but that person, if they’ve made a difference in a process, has bought into the working procedures methodology 100% because they had a piece of it.

Brett McKay: Got you.

Sam Carpenter: Top-down doesn’t work.

Brett McKay: Right, so I can see this if you are a business owner, like, you’re in charge of this, you can start implementing this, but let’s say someone is listening to this. They’re a manager or some sort of mid-level executive. How do they get people on board around, “This is the thing we need to start doing because this will actually help improve things?” I can see that there might be a lot of push-back to this, like, “No, we’re doing it great. Things are fantastic. We don’t need to do this.” How do you get past that barrier?

Sam Carpenter: If we go into a … We fix hundreds and hundreds of businesses, Josh Fonger, the field guy and me, the two of us. We go into a business and we tell the owner first thing, “We only work with the CEO. If we can’t work with the CEO we won’t work with the company. We’ve got to have the CEO’s blessing.” It usually comes from the CEO that gets us in there. We tell them first thing, “Look, you’ve got 20 people in your little business here. You’re doing $3 million, and I’m telling you, there’s at least one and maybe two people who are going to try to throw this off the rails. Be prepared. Be prepared for one of those people to maybe leave, and unfortunately it might be the brother-in-law,” or, “Be prepared if we have to sit down and have a chat with this person.”

The first thing we do is put everybody in a room. I’ll just give you the generic way we do it: Put everybody in a room and say, “We’re going to do working procedures. What is the biggest problem … Frank, what’s the biggest …” There are no more Franks. Okay.

Brett McKay: Kyle.

Sam Carpenter: Kyle, yeah. “Kyle, what is the biggest problem in your department?” Kyle will have to think about it. “Okay, Kyle, we’ll talk again tomorrow but I want the top three problems in your department.” We get back together. Everybody is there with Kyle in his department. We sit down. He says, “The first problem is this.” We analyze it and we all agree that’s the biggest problem. Then we say the second, “Okay, we’re going to work on the first one. Here’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to document it exactly how you do it. You do it as best … Or you can delegate it.” Then Kyle doesn’t want to do it but he does it anyway because that’s his job.

The next meeting you have, Kyle comes in, and we sit it down, and we read it to the rest of the people, say six people in his department. Soph … There’s no more Sophies. Okay, Jan. Jan speaks up and says, “Why are you doing Step 4. It’s better to do it this way.” You have this meeting with everybody and pretty soon everybody is critiquing it. Of course Kyle is proud because he did it in the first place, but what happens is you have a couple of meetings like that. That’s all it takes. You get the working procedure exactly right. It will be different than how they’re doing it, I’ll guarantee you. Everybody is contributing to it and you get buy-in.

This bottom-up thing is critical. Military, top-down works because they’ll shoot you if you don’t. But it doesn’t work that way in a business. You’ve got to have … How do you get the buy-in? That’s how you get it. You have your people do the documentation, and really, the owner of the company shouldn’t be doing the documentation. Has to do it at first; it’s messy at first. You have to do the basic documentation to make sure the company is headed in the right direction with all the departments, but 99% of the documentation needs to be done by the troops, and they love it.

One of the reasons they love it is that if they follow a procedure and something goes wrong, they’re not at fault: It’s the procedure’s fault. If something goes wrong and they point out to the boss, “Look, Step 11 here just doesn’t make any sense.” “Well, if we put another Step 11A and 11B in here, it will make it work fine. There’s a double check we can put in here.” That person is now a hero, and believe me they’re totally bought into the process.

Brett McKay: Got you.

Sam Carpenter: That’s how it works.

Brett McKay: That’s great. How do you solve the problem. I guess another sticky point would be, “Sam, this sounds great but we’ve got a lot of fires put out right now, and for me to stop and take time and like systemize, we can’t do it.” Is it possible to do this systemizing while putting out the fires that you have right now?

Sam Carpenter: The owner is working 60 hours a week. “Okay, owner, for a couple of weeks you may have to work 80. You may have to work through the weekend, but I want to know what fires are recurring, and what the biggest ones are, and why they’ve got you so upset. We’re going to take the time to analyze that fire, and when that big fire is put out and it never happens again, and that’s the whole idea, these recurring fires that come up, we have to sit down. We have to document them. We have to make them go away.”

Once that first fire is gone forever this person is bought in for life because then you go to the second thing. Then you go to the third thing. I’m telling you, in the average small business in a month people are rabid. They’re foaming at the mouth about documentation. I know that’s hard to believe but the owner is and the people that have been getting in trouble over and over again are because they’re not getting in trouble anymore, and they’re seeing their business run like a beautiful machine.

Guess what? The owner’s … I went from 80 to 100 hours a week. You know how much I worked in the same business, which is approximately 400% bigger now? A call center is a really complex business. I went from 80 to 100 hours a week. I work two hours a week now. I pay all the bills because I want to know how that money is going out, and I have a staff meeting when I feel like it, and I do a little R&D.

I’ve been out of town for … What is today? I’ve been out of town for three days and I haven’t had one communication with my … My COO sent me a message the morning, asked me a simple question, and then I sent her a simple request, but in three days that’s all I’ve had to do with Centratel. The beautiful thing is your business ends up being a separate entity, a machine, and guess what? If you don’t need to be there you can sell it someday.

Brett McKay: Right, so yeah, you got to work on the business. I guess your job now is just working on the bus-, working on the system, right, system maintenance?

Sam Carpenter: Right. It’s really Stephen Covey stuff. You work on your business instead of in your … He nailed it: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is mandatory reading if you have a pulse.

Brett McKay: Right, yeah. I’m actually reading it again. I’ve read it several times but I’m reading it again just because.

Sam Carpenter: It’s a masterpiece. Good for you.

Brett McKay: Really good book. One of the other things you talk about, I guess a principle that’s related to this systems mindset that helps the systems run efficiently, I guess, this idea of point-of-sale thinking. Applying it, it’s helped my business and my life a lot. Can you talk a little bit what point-of-sale thinking is and how that can help improve your life or business?

Sam Carpenter: Yeah, and you read my second book. It’s a big aspect of my second book, the point-of-sale thing, and point of sale is from the cash register industry, the retail industry, and that means you go to buy a blouse at Nordstroms, a lot of things are taken care of, including inventory, bookkeeping, making change. Everything happens at a specific time, and you don’t put anything off.

Let me give you another illustration of that. I have this app on my smart phone called “Say it & Mail it.” It’s an iPhone. There’s another app if you’ve got a Droid. There’s dozens of apps, but what I could do, if I have something … I had something for Andi, my COO, this morning, and I thought of it coming in here. Through my Bluetooth, because I was driving, I was able to record a voice message as I was thinking about the thing, and send it off to her within 30 seconds.

The voice mail is an attachment to an email, so Say it & Mail it, I get on here. I’ve got my phone in my hands here, but I get on here, hit a few things, “Hey, Andi, do this and this and this. When you get back to me, let me know how it goes, dot-da-dot-da-dah.” Sent. I mean, in 20 seconds I can do the whole thing. That illustrates point of sale exactly. You want to take care of things right now all day long if you possibly can. What this means is we rarely have a staff meeting.

The other thing I’m able to do is I’ve got email addresses with everybody in my business, for instance, 40-some people at Centratel. I can be driving along and thinking, “Things are going really well at the office and I need to thank everybody for that.” I hit a few keys: “Hey, everybody. I just want to thank you. You know, I’ve been out of the office for a couple of weeks, but Andi tells me our gross revenues are up, and this and that, and I just really appreciate all of you so much. That’s all. Thank you.” Hit a couple more keys, bam: It goes to everybody in the office.

How many times can a CEO with normal communications protocol get that done like right now? The cool thing is, this goes back to mechanical reality, right now is all we have. The past is gone. The future is conjecture, so we’ve got to do 100% with what we have in this moment. The other thing you need to remember is ideas go through our mind like a film strip. I love this analogy. I don’t remember where I got this but there’s a film strip going through your head. You have one idea. It kind of attaches to another idea, and then you have some input from somebody else or something else. Then you have another idea.

Brilliant thoughts go in our heads and out within seconds. What if you could have a brilliant idea come up in your mind as this film strip goes through your head, and isolate it, and act on it like right now? The other thing I do with this technology, and it’s just voice mail attached to an email, it’s real low-tech stuff, if I have a great idea for myself I do the same thing and send the message to myself. The app is set up so if I don’t put somebody else’s name in the email window my name is there automatically so I can really, really fast, “Hey, Sam, don’t forget to, dot-ta-da-to-dot-dot-da.” I send it to myself and it’s in my inbox. That’s a perfect idea that is never lost.

Point of sale, I don’t know, I’m on this kick on point of sale over the last three or four years. I’m just really enthusiastic over the whole methodology of getting through the day with point of sale. It is so critical.

Brett McKay: Right, so instead of … Is there a point where you would like, if there’s a task that you just like … When would you decide, “I can’t do it now. I need to defer this?” Are there tasks that come up like that, or are most tasks you can solve within a couple minutes?

Sam Carpenter: Usually I can do them in a couple of minutes because I delegate most of what I do out, but in this last experience, this last example I just gave you, maybe there is something I need to go home … It might be around the house: “Hey, Sam, don’t forget to do this or this or this.” I can’t do it now. I have to be somewhere else, or I need other resources to do it. Yeah, that always happens, but I’m telling you, Brett, 90% of what we do during the day can be automated, delegated, or deleted right now in this moment.

I don’t put off a lot. I put off a little bit compared to what I used to do. But most people go through the day putting stuff off. David Allen talks about, “If you can do something in three minutes do it now.” He’s exactly right. You really try to do things in the moment and you get real efficient because the stuff is going to keep coming at you all day long, and it’s going to keep coming and coming, and you don’t want to build even more stuff up with things you could have handled in this moment. You want to be ready for what’s coming. You don’t want to have a tidal wave wash over the top of you and make you want to put a bullet in your head.

Brett McKay: Sam, what’s one thing, as we’re winding down this conversation, if there’s one thing someone who’s listening to this podcast right now could do to start developing that systems mindset, what could that one thing they could start doing?

Sam Carpenter: This is pretty cool, and I love this question. Here’s what you could do: Wherever you are right now, you might be at home listening carefully. You might be jogging as you listen to this. You might be in your car listening to this. Wherever you are, I don’t care where you are, look around to see the separateness. It’s a beautiful thing. We all want to be one. We’re all connected. Yeah, we are in an atomic level. I get that, but that’s stupid to go through your life like that, and most of us do.

Wherever you are, it’s just sitting in your car, see this tree over here? It has nothing to do with that hydrant over there. In fact, this tree over here has nothing to do with the tree next to it. See the car come by and think about that car that comes by the other way and passes you, the 10,000 separate components of that car, the miracle of the driver, their body in there, all those components working. See the separateness. Look at the dashboard of your car. See the radio? That has nothing to do with the speedometer. It has nothing to do with the gas tank, which has nothing to do with the brakes, which has nothing to do with the engine. They’re connected, but until you can see that separateness you can’t hope to unravel a frazzled life that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Brett McKay: Got you. Hey, Sam, before we go, where can people learn more about your work?

Sam Carpenter: Okay, go to Everything is there. The Synopsis and the FAQs I’m particularly proud about. They explain the whole thing very, very well, and you can jump over to from the site, so it’s best just to go to If you have a business you want Work the System. If you don’t have a business, if you have a job, you’re retired, you’re a kid in school, or whatever, start with The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of Your Life. It’s slightly less than half as long as Work the System. Work the System is definitely geared to businesses.

Brett McKay: Got you. Sam Carpenter, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Sam Carpenter: Thank you, Brett. I appreciate it very much. I love talking about this stuff.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Sam Carpenter. He’s the author of the books Work the System as well as The Systems Mindset. You can find those books on The Systems Mindset is coming out in March. He’s got a great thing going on here. You can go to or, and you can download those books for free, the unabridged versions in PDF in all electronic formats as well as audio formats for free, again. Go to and Get those books. Give them a read. You won’t regret it. You’ll get a lot out of it.

That wraps up another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at If you enjoy this podcast, I’d appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher and help us get the word out about the show. Really appreciate your support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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