Find Your Third Place

Now that it’s a New Year, I’ve been thinking about how managing partners and leaders of organizations are so busy, busy, busy, doing, doing, doing, they don’t take the time to think, plan and then act, which is my mantra for overbooked leaders.

Think, plan and then act is a three-step process, but most of the leaders I meet fall short on at least one of them. What typically happens to leaders is that all day long they’re putting out fires – taking actions and doing things, all the time, one after another. And they’re great at it. But what they should really be doing is working on preventing those fires, rather than putting them out.

It’s far too rare for CEOs, managing partners and other leaders to take the other two steps to think and plan.

So what gets in the way of that thinking and planning time? You don’t have to go very far to answer that question. Look up right now and count the number of distractions in your environment. Whether you’re at work, at home or somewhere in between, there are many things clamouring for your attention.

So if there are too many distractions at work and a whole other set of distractions at home, you need to find what I call your third place. Somewhere you can concentrate and hear yourself think. You don’t need any fancy equipment – just some way of capturing your thoughts. A pad and pen may work just fine, or you might use a tablet computer, laptop or smartphone.

Personally, I like the outdoors. Whenever the weather cooperates, my coach/business partner and I meet at a place we call “318 The Park,” which is the covered picnic area of a state park. Sometimes I use that as my personal third place as well. In bad weather, I’ll go to a library, sit in my parked car or go to a neighborhood coffee shop.

The funny thing is that there’s actually a lot of ambient noise in that coffee shop – ringing cash registers, crying kids, laughter, clinking dishes, etc. But because I don’t own any of it, I can tune it right out. I know that none of those people are talking to me or needing anything from me.

Have you heard that expression by Thomas Edison that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? Well, in the third place, that gets flipped right over. This is the time for inspiration and preparation, in the hopes that you’ll need less perspiration for running around when you get back to your workplace.

When you really can’t get away from work, set yourself up with a third place you can retreat to right there in the building. Maybe there’s a lunchroom that’s empty the rest of the day. Or a conference room, a reception area or even a stairwell. Be creative. Just get away from those ringing phones, beeping emails and people walking in with questions, just for a little while.

For my client Charlie, things were so chaotic that from the minute he stepped into his office, he didn’t have even a second to plan or even to think. So in one of our coaching sessions I suggested that when he stopped at 7-11 to get his coffee in the morning, he sit in his car for 15 minutes to plan his day. We both knew that once he got to the office it would be too late to do any planning.

Charlie, like every other client who has implemented this suggestion, reported better results for accountability – both for himself and his firm. Even better, he was able to work less but be more productive with the time he spent.

Less stress, more time and a better bottom line. Not a bad return for a 15-minute trip to his third place!

Are you struggling to step away from the busy-ness and find the time and place to think and plan? As an executive consultant, Alan M. Dobzinski helps managing partners, CEOs and other leaders develop a solid foundation of accountability that keeps everyone on track. Contact him to find out how to get started.