Dig through just about any time use survey or data set for the activity that makes people most miserable and you'll usually find the same answer--commuting. Getting to and from work is generally the peak point of misery in our days. What if it could be re-engineered to be a source of joy instead?

Axing your commute is probably impractical, but peak performance researcher Adam Fraser has a far more doable suggestion. Instead, transform it (or at least counteract it) by adding a "third space" to your day. 

What's a "third space"?

Drawing on Fraser's TEDx Talk on the subject, Kara Cutruzzula explains on our sister publication Fast Company that a "third space" is simply a mental bridge between the stresses of work (or school) and the relaxation of home. You don't need to spend a lot of time there, and it need not even be a literal space, but you do need to add a simple ritual to switch gears between the different phases of your day.

"It's just a space where you think about, 'How will I show up when I walk through that door [at home]?' How you show up determines what sort of evening you have.... And how you transition home determines how you unwind, relax, and socialize--or obsess and worry about the day," Fraser says in his talk.

For some people, that might be a trip to the gym or walking your dog before interacting with your family or roommates. For others, it might be nothing more than a quiet cup of tea. Yet others might opt for meditation, banging on a drum kit, or listening to particular podcasts on their ride home. The details don't matter, but being intentional about building transitions into your day does.

Cutruzzula also suggests adding a conscious moment of reflection into your third space practice. "Something as simple as, 'So, what was the highpoint of my day?' or 'What can I try to improve tomorrow?' can close the loop on the day you experienced and subconsciously point you to notice more positive events later in the week," she writes. Here is another question you might consider asking.

The science of the third space

Cutruzzula doesn't go into the scientific justification for the idea of a third space, but it exists. One study by the American Psychological Association "found that the two most common stressors among those surveyed were work and money, and the incidence of stress often results in irritability, anger, nervousness, and anxiousness--all behaviors that can cause tension when brought home after work," reports one HBR.com writeup of research on the subject.

Spillover of work stress into our personal lives is a common and serious problem, in other words. Designing your routine to combat it is one the simplest ways to be happier (and also probably a nicer parent, friend, and partner).

Don't constantly carry work in your pocket

One final point is worth noting: Cutting the connection between work stress and home life is an essential first step. But you could have the most thoughtful third space in the world and it won't do you any good if, as soon as you get home, you immediately pull out your phone and start getting stressed about work again.

That's why it's a good idea to combine having a third space with this simple trick for limiting how much our screens impact our home life (while still maintaining a feasible degree of connection) from author and computer scientist Cal Newport.

Do you have a "third space" to help you transition from work to home?

Published on: Mar 21, 2019