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How to use the third space effectively

Do you struggle with the transition between a busy day at work and then engaging effectively at home? It’s hard to be truly present with your partner, children, family or housemates after a long, tiring day at the office or out in the field, so in this short episode we’re discussing a technique that might help you, called the third space.

The third space can help bring more balance into our lives and help us as enablers of change to be the person we would prefer to be. Dr Adam Fraser, in his book The third space: Using life’s little transitions to find balance and happiness, describes how he interviewed hundreds of successful people and discovered a common theme. They all were able to successfully transition from one role they play in their lives to another, almost seamlessly.

What is the third space? Well the first space is what we are doing right now—whether that be working or perhaps commuting to or from work. The second space is what we are about to do and the third space is that gap between the two. Different roles require different tasks and abilities. At work we are often task-driven and aim to be time-efficient. Yet at home, we often need to be relaxed and connected with those around us. The third space helps us transition between these roles. 

This is not about meditation or yoga—but about a technique that allows us to better cognitively switch between activities in our lives. It involves three relatively simple steps, each beginning with the letter R: 

  1. Reflect. Think back on our day at work and try to make sense of it. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, think about these three questions. What went well today? What did I achieve today? How did I get better today? This optimistic mindset helps us deconstruct our day and reframe it in a positive light. 
  2. Rest. Take a break and calm our mind, so we do not have thoughts racing around our heads. This might involve taking a few long, deep breaths. It could be going for a quick walk around the block or doing Wordle on the bus home. 
  3. Reset. Think about the role we’re about to move into and how we want that to go. Is it our intention to enjoy some time with our family or housemates? When we walk in the door, how do we want to be perceived? What do we need to do to convey that? Adam reminds us that there are two types of people in life—those who light up a room when they walk in, and those who light up a room when they walk out. Which one do we want to be?

This is a simple technique that might help us as enablers of change to better manage our busy lives and the various roles that we juggle. While it is good to do it towards the end of the day, we can also use this approach between the various meetings and activities during the day. So if we have had a difficult conversation with one person, we can use this technique to help reframe ourselves before the next meeting. 

As Adam says, if we want more satisfaction and happiness, it is not what we do—it is what we do in-between what we do—that really matters! If this sounds like something you’d like to delve more into, Adam’s book is a good place to start (Adams, 2012).There’s also some good explainer videos on YouTube.  

Just to note that one thing that was helpful for us was realising that the third space did not need to be a long stretch of time, like an hour or more, but it is actually about building in some in-between time. It could be five minutes, to allow ourselves to make the switch between spaces. One thing we have found useful is scheduling 5 minutes after a meeting to reflect and jot down any actions, maybe even sending a follow-up email, before moving onto the next thing!

It is worth noting that while Adam has popularised the third space, it was actually Bhabha (1994) who coined the term in his book The location of culture. Also, in community building the third space refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the first space of home and the second space of work. These third spaces can include cafes, libraries and churches. They are generally neutral places where we can relax and they help anchor us in our society. 

Well, you have read our thoughts, now we would like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your experiences with using the third space, including any tips and further ideas about it. We do not want this to be just a one-way conversationjoin in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change blog. Before you move on to your next activity, why don’t you take a moment to reflect on what stood out to you, take a deep breath and prepare to move into your next space—practice! Remember to subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like to know when new episodes are available. And if you liked what you heard, please tell your friends so they too can join the conversation!

Resources

Bhabha, H.K. (1994) The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 

Fraser, A. (2012). The Third Space: Using life’s little transitions to find balance and happiness. William Heinemann Australia.

Dr Adam Fraser explains The Third Space. Available on YouTube

Dr Adam Fraser ‘The Third Space’ at Happiness & Its Causes 2013. Available on YouTube

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Adrian Englefield
Adrian Englefield
1 year ago

Hello John and Denise
Great episode and reminder of the importance of balance in life.
I don’t get much rest at home with three young boys!!! However, I achieve and pack more into work by reflecting, resting and resetting during time out with them.
I will investigate the third space further.
Thanks

Last edited 1 year ago by Adrian Englefield
Graham Harris
Graham Harris
1 year ago

A great episode John and Denise – thanks for this – much appreciated.

Kemi Lawal
Kemi Lawal
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing this. Finding a balance between work and life is usually a great challenge. At times I bring who I was in the last battle into the new one. I like the ‘positive’ reflection, rest and reset . I’ll surely try it out.

Noel Ainsworth
Noel Ainsworth
1 year ago

I really like the deliberate and planned time and process for reflection to capture thoughts and ideas, rather than trying to devise a solution during the next scheduled activity.

Anithakumari. P
Anithakumari. P
1 year ago

Balancing phases of life is a much needed reflection in anyone’s life. The intervening transition spaces is an innovative suggestion. However the economic background, cultural ecosystems, family characteristics as per country norms, rural urban locations, emotional intelligence level etc also may influence the balancing as well as finding oneself in the third space. Thank you for the blog and looking forward for the coming episodes

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