Finding the Third Space and making it count

Finding Space and making it count.

I recently saw a post on social media from a friend who was lamenting the fact that she hasn’t read nearly as much as usual recently. Working from home, without her usual train commute, there just wasn’t the same opportunity to read.

Then I happened upon an article on the Third Space.

What’s the Third Space?

The Third Space is the time between doing one thing and starting another, like the space between being at work and being at home.

This got me thinking about some of the things I used to do on my commute, and how this acted as a space between work and home where I could decompress. I was lucky enough to be able to get the ferry to work. This involved a 1km walk either side of the ferry trip - great for building some extra steps into my day. On the walk home in particular, I would find my mind wandering as I reflected on the day. The walk home was uphill, definitely not my favourite thing. (This from someone who’s done the trek to Everest base camp! So, imagine how hard that was for me - those uphills were real!). Because I didn’t particularly like this uphill at the end of the day, I would go to other places in my head while I trudged up the hill.

It became almost a meditative place – left, right, argh, left, right.

From time to time I would have a great idea, or find a moment of clarity about something that had been troubling me (in the back of mind) from the day’s events. I came to love this time of day (despite the hill, or maybe because of it).  More recently I’ve been driving to work, and I’ve been thinking about how to build this reflective time back into my day. Complaining at the other drivers on the road who just cut me off, or changed lanes passing a bit too close, doesn’t quite replace my quiet time for reflection.

So, I looked up the Third Space to find its origins. There is a book written way back in 2012 by Dr Adam Fraser called the Third Space. It highlights results into research of high performance and how to get better. One example population looked at in the research were elite athletes, and particularly tennis players. The research addressed the question of what are the attributes that make one athlete’s performance greater than the other when they have similar physical attributes.

Why is the Third Space valuable?

The research found it wasn’t what the tennis players did during points that made the difference. It was what the athletes did between points that mattered. Those athletes who could reflect on the last point, and put it behind them, and then reframe their mind for the next point, had more success. Just watch any modern tennis clip and see all those players who have adopted the Third Space - they turn their back to their opponent, play with their strings or towel, and take a deep breath before readying for the next point.

How you transition from one activity to another is all-important when it comes to performance. The research then went on to look at this third space in different contexts for instance:

  • How people transition from an unsuccessful sales call, and reset their focus to handle the next call with optimism
  • How people move from doing administrative work one minute to have a performance discussion next and then go on to a meeting where they need to think, collaborate and solve problems

Being able to reflect, and reset your focus so you can effectively switch from one thing to another is a valuable skill with the pace and variety of modern work.

Creating the Third Space however work looks like right now.

Back to the other important context, which is in making the transition from work to home. Do you bring your work stress and troubles home with you? What about when you are working from home? Without a commute, we are all meant to have more time in our days. Does it feel like this? I bet not! But when the workday ends, how do you transition to “home time” when you’re already there? If you simply move rooms, from the dining room table to the lounge, you could consider adding in an activity to create that third space you would normally get on your commute. This could be a walk around the block, a quiet time to reflect on your day and make some notes about what went well, and what you’d like to tackle tomorrow, or a time to meditate for 15-20 mins if that’s more your thing. Creating some space between the end of the day’s work, and your home time helps your transition.

This is all-important when we are trying to manage our mental health and wellbeing at a time when we’ve been thrust into working from home, rather than having chosen it for ourselves.

We’ve spoken in recent blog posts about how we are much less likely to look at a particular change positively when it happens to us – and we’ve had a lot beyond our control lately!

Taking the time to reset, and refocus our mindset to find the positives in this, can make all the difference in how we perceive - and ultimately deal with -the situation.

Find your Third Space and make it count.

The clear message is, if you don’t have a commute where you can transition from work to home, creating this Third Space can be the difference to being able to switch off from work, really be present for those you love most. Even if you are going to do more work later, the time you do spend with your family will be much better quality. Research shows that people who practised doing this for a month, had a 41% improvement in the mood at home.

However your next week looks, think through how you’re going to create your Third Space across the working week. Good luck!

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