Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Improve productivity by getting into the right headspace

Are you one of the majority of small business owners who’d like more work/life balance? Wouldn’t we all? Read on for tips on how to use ‘the third space’ to get you there.

Bill Gates famously said in the early nineties, “with the invention of the personal computer the average person will gain 30 percent more leisure time”. How did that pan out for you? Yeah, thanks Bill. If you look at the research, people today actually have 33 percent less leisure time than someone in the early nineties. Why? Because the world has become faster. We used to date, now we speed date, we used to read, now we speed read, we used to walk, now we speed walk. Today you can even do a class called ‘speed yoga’ and pick up a copy of the One Minute Bed Time Story on your way home.

Just look at innovation to see how rapid things have become. Years ago, new technology followed a pattern of 10:10. 10 years to develop it and 10 years for it to go mainstream. Video, CDs, plasma TVs, all followed this pattern. Today the ratio is moving towards 1:1, one year to develop it and one year to go mainstream. Think YouTube.

You can describe working in business today by the formula. 1/2 x 2 = 3. Half the number of people, doing twice the amount of work, expected to get three times the result. This is causing us to change the way we work as previously the competitive advantage was to work harder and fit more in. This strategy is now irrelevant. We can’t work any harder! We can’t fit anymore in! Time management is dead!

So what is the new competitive advantage? It is the ability to transition rapidly between the different roles, environments or tasks that make up our day. But transition in a way where we can be resilient to, and leave behind, what we have just done, and rapidly shift into a mindset that aligns with the next task, role or environment.

I discovered this new area of research while standing in the green room at the Sydney Convention Centre. It was 20 minutes before I had to walk out and present to 5,000 people, when my phone rang. I can’t clearly recall what happened next, only the sentence that told me my best friend had just died unexpectedly. I was shattered… I couldn’t believe it was true. Over and over the sentence played in my head. For a moment, I totally forgot where I was and certainly forgot what was waiting for me through those doors.

I glanced at my watch and the hands screamed back at me that I only had minutes before 5,000 sets of eyes would be on me. In that moment I had to squash the desire to run away and pull myself together. Stepping out in front of those clinical probing lights I was greeted by a sea of faces. I not only managed to hold it together, it was one of my best presentations. Then I walked off stage, sat in my car, put my head in my hands and sobbed like a baby.

Following this, I started to wonder how I was able to go from that phone call to successfully completing a very challenging task. It was clearly something I did in the transition between getting the phone call and walking out on stage. I began to study how people transition from one activity to another. I came across some research showing that there is very little difference between the top 100 male tennis players in terms of speed, accuracy and power during the point. Where the elite players differed was in what they did in between the points. In the ‘third space’ they were able to reflect on the previous point and put it behind them. Next they relaxed deeply to calm their mind and conserve their energy. Finally they focused their mind and emotions to be at their best for the next point. It was not what they did during the point, it was what they did in between the points that made them the best.

Then it struck me that similar to tennis players moving from point to point, our lives are made up of moving between different spaces. The first space is the role/environment/task you are in now; the second space is the role/environment/task you are about to transition into. For example, you may go from checking emails at your desk to sorting out a personal disagreement, or you may go from an internal meeting where it is about the strategy of your business to an external meeting where it is about their world. Each space requires us to be different things to different people.

This realisation inspired me to write a book investigating the importance of the transitional gap in between what we do. I call this gap the Third Space.

The research for the book blew my mind. The best salespeople used the third space between calls to get over the previous call and move into the next one with optimism and enthusiasm. The best leaders used the Third Space between meetings to compose themselves and get their headspace right and intentions clear for the next meeting.

All our research showed that it’s not what we do, it’s what we do in between what we do that is most important. After hundreds of interviews and many research projects over five years, I discovered that there were three key elements to effective transitions:

Step 1, Reflect: This step is where people reflected on the previous space but reflect in a way where they look at what they have achieved and how they had gotten better. This helps to shift our mindset into a more positive one and stops us carrying any baggage from the previous space. Humans have a deep need to understand how they are improving and achieving. If you regularly practice Reflect you will drive up your level of happiness. All too often when we transition out of a space we only focus on what has gone wrong and what we are unhappy with.

Step 2, Rest: This phase is simply where people paused and cleared their mind. Rest was a chance for them to catch their breath before the next activity. Depending on their circumstances the amount of time for rest changed dramatically. Sometimes it was a deep breath between meetings, or a yoga class before coming home. People felt that the clarity of thought that came from Rest helped them be more composed in the next space. New research in the area of stress management is showing that short regular pauses in our day on a consistent basis leads to a dramatic drop in stress, anxiety and depression.

Step 3, Reset: This is the final part of the Third Space where you prepare for the next space. Reset is used to get clear on what is your intention for the next space and what are the exact behaviours you need to exhibit to make the intention a reality. Due to our hyperkinetic society where we feel that we are on a roller coaster stuck on repeat, we often lose sight of the outcome we are after. The Reset phase allows us to get clear, heightening our sense of control. The articulation of behaviour is also crucial. If we want to change and grow it starts with altering behaviours.

People who practiced this technique in their day reported a remarkable increase in happiness and performance and reductions in stress. This led me to ask the question – could the Third Space work for work/life balance?

Surveys consistently report that small and medium business owners are unhappy with their level of balance and would like more. So I partnered with Deakin University on a research project where we took a mix of 250 small business owners and measured their mood and behaviour in the home. The initial survey did not paint a pretty picture. Only 29 percent said that they came home in a good mood, with a positive mindset and exhibited constructive behaviour. We then asked them to perform three simple behaviours in the Third Space between work and home:

Reflect: This is where they reflected on and analysed the day. However they were encouraged to only focus on what they had achieved and what had gone well for them.

Rest: They took time to relax and unwind. Being calm and present, allowed their physiology to recover from the stressful day.

Reset: This is where they became clear about their intention for the home space and articulated the specific behaviours they wanted to exhibit. In other words how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door.

After a month of the participants applying these principles, we saw a whopping 41 percent improvement in behaviour in the home. When interviewed, they conveyed that the improved interactions they had with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance.

If you are a business owner needing to have greater control over you life and improve your relationships, apply the principles of the Third Space to each transition you make. Go forth and Reflect, Rest and Reset.

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Dr Adam Fraser

Dr Adam Fraser

Dr Adam Fraser is one of Australia’s leading educators, researchers and thought leaders in the area of human performance! In this time he has worked with elite level athletes, the armed forces and business professionals of all levels. For the past 10 years Adam has been working exclusively in the corporate and business world to elevate and sustain the performance of the employees of the companies that hire him.

View all posts