The Third Space
All of my clients know how passionate I am about the old “Big Rocks” parable. As overachievers we often struggle and fail because we try to do too much. We don’t prioritize well, we don’t maintain a laser focus, and we let the Urgent things capsize the Important things.
So, it’s no surprise when I hear senior executives lamenting, often as the 4th quarter dawns, “I get it on the Big Rocks, but I keep finding I’m not getting the right Rocks into the jar! The sand and gravel just keep piling up, and I’m at my wit’s end. I have good ideas but I’m not able to execute. How can I do better?!”
None of us ever seems to have enough time to focus on what we want and need to get done.
One way to maintain focus and improve execution is to be more mindful of and leverage what I like to call “The Third Space.” The Third Space is a tool or method to intentionally carve out time and frame mindset to look at things from different and valuable perspectives, and to ensure that you take care of your Big Rocks.
In simple terms, The Third Space is a calm and composed state of mind where you can catch your breath, focus, and lay out a plan to ensure that you are focusing your time and energy for maximum impact.
The term “Third Space” pays homage to the term “The Third Place,” coined in the 1980’s by the urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. For Oldenburg, Third Places are the informal public gathering places critical for a functioning civil society. They are places where people come together, talk, relax, rejuvenate, and create special bonds. The Third Place is not the home. It is not the office. It is all the other places. A good example would be a bench in a public park located metaphorically down the street from where you live and from where you work. From that Third Place bench you can see both places, home and work, while you are not actually in either of them. It is a special place where you can observe both places and where you can pause to reflect on both.
Borrowing from this Third Place concept, I recommend that executives and leaders adopt the idea of a “Third Space” as a mindset, based on the same logic.
Whereas in The First Space you devote active real-time attention to your personal and family life, and whereas in The Second Space your attention is actively focused on work as it is happening, The Third Space is removed from both. It is a “thought bench in the park” where you can see and reflect on both places (home and work) from afar.
To do better with your home and work Big Rocks, I highly recommend you embrace The Third Space. That’s where you can stop, catch your breath, take stock, think and reflect, and come to see things more clearly. Experience tells us that one can generally only do these things effectively from a different vantage point. It is from this metaphorical Third Space thought bench that you can figure out how to be more successful and productive in both your First and Second Spaces.
To put it another way, being an effective executive takes a great deal of effort and planning, and being a good parent, spouse, or friend takes even more. How can you hope to excel in either Space if you never make time to assess, plan, learn, and refresh?
Now, how exactly to create and occupy your Third Space will be a matter of preference and style. The physical place is less important than the practice and mindset. Here are a few tips for creating a Third Space where I know you can “pull the camera back” and thrive:
· Be intentional. Put Third Space time on your calendar. Treat it like a critically important meeting. It is! Don’t cancel it, push it off for “more important” things, or let other meetings displace it. (Bonus hint: Sometimes the best Third Space time is when the family is asleep, or early Monday morning, before the chaos of the week begins. These are my own preferred Third Spaces.)
· Be opportunistic. Slide Third Space time in during other moments. For example, use the time you spend during exercise either to entirely rejuvenate (by thinking not a whit about anything and rebooting your mental processor) or as an opportunity to direct your mental focus toward big matters that need uncluttered thinking.
· Develop superpower habits. When you arrive at those rare moments on your calendar where nothing is scheduled, endeavor to turn them into Third Space time blocks for yourself. Don’t just dive into e-mail or social media when you have a break. You may be amazed at how productive you can be if you capture those extra minutes.
Bringing The Third Space into your regular routine will help you be more productive, effective, and happy. In your Third Space you can organize and plan for your family and yourself as well as your job. You can learn from what you have done, both wins and failures, and come up with new ideas. You will recuperate, re-energize, and manage stress better. You’ll feel more in control and will do a better job focusing yourself on what’s most important.
I’d love to hear your Third Space ideas and experiences. Send me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Bonus: Visit this special webpage for a little something extra (and free) from my friends over at Tripod: tools to help you achieve great success in bringing impactful Third Space practice into your life.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson