First You Must See. Then You Can Act

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The systems insight arrived because I was under enormous mental and physical pressure. Until that late-night revelation, my strategy was to approach life with a bulldog, damn-the-torpedoes, pound-the moles, I’m-so-damn-clever persona. It was a toxic brew of arrogance and ignorance—perhaps the most noxious combination of negative human traits. The seething chaos had reared up and was about to crush me for good. Instead, with a flash of insight, it released me. I dropped the bulldog routine, adopted a new outside-and-slightly-elevated perspective, and found new confidence. I knew exactly what moves to make and charged out of my self-imposed prison.


The cure to workplace chaos – boring but true – is to get things down on paper. First, put together the Strategic Objective. It will require a few hours to develop a draft, and a few more hours over another couple of days to get it right. Creating it is pretty much a one-time event, but allow for minor future revisions as the environment changes.


Next, after you write the Strategic Objective’s first draft, you will begin work on the General Operating Principles, the contents of which will be accumulated bit-by-bit and then perfected over a few weeks’ time. Still, the total time invested isn’t much. Once completed, this document will also remain relatively static over the years.


Third, for your business or your job, you will create a collection of Working Procedures. A Working Procedure is in itself the archetypical system. Products of system improvement, each is an exact guideline for executing the process it describes. (This third form of documentation will be addressed in detail in its own separate chapter.)


Over the long term, you and your staff will spend the majority of documentation time creating new Working Procedures and tweaking existing ones. Although the Strategic Objective and the General Operating Principles will get little mechanical adjustment later on, their fundamentals are key to the creation of your Working Procedures (or, in your personal life, in just navigating the day). In any case, at work, all three documents will remain front and center in your mind.


For every unit of effort and time you expend on the three documents, the return in personal time and financial freedom will be at least hundredfold. I am not exaggerating.


-excerpt from Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less


Sam Carpenter is author of the book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More. Visit the Web site to purchase your copy of the book and register for the next two-day Work The System Boot Camp to be held this August in Bend, Oregon. A free download of “Six Steps to Making More and Working Less” is also available on the site.  Work the System will be available in hard cover in book stores nationwide in May 2009.




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