NOTE 1: This is my POV on 3rd Places and very much YMMV. I’m NOT telling anybody this is how or what they need to do to be successful, it’s merely ideas you can borrow or steal! So enjoy!
NOTE 2: Yes, this is a long post, get ready for a long haul. However, if you’re looking for ideas about 3rd places or just curious then this post will be worth the read! 👍🏻
Recently I wrote about “My Lessons Learned on Learning“. One of the key parts of learning, but also getting things done for me, is to frequently visit 3rd places. What’s a 3rd place? I’ll elaborate.
3️⃣rd Place – (per Wikipedia) In community buildings, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. Examples of third places would be environments such as churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, bookstores or parks.
There are three other definitions that should be understood in detail. These definitions are necessary to get the full context of what I have to write about 3rd places, and also to have an accurate grasp of what I mean when I write work, workplace, and home in relation to 3rd places.
Work is activity that is done on behalf of staying alive. Work could be farming a field or going hunting. In my context it would mean creating some type of service or product, or partaking on some type of activity. One more caveat is that this activity would be related to getting paid.
Workplace is a place where poeple have traditionally gone to do work. However it is a place that is often associated with work where work often doesn’t get done. A workplace is what I call a designated place often paid for by an employer that a person goes to in order to work for that employer. That’s it, nothing more nothing less, that is the core definition of workplace for me.
NOTE: Workplace IMHO should not be, and I attempt to not conflate it with one’s personal workspace, personal office, or home office. Very, very different places.
Home is where the heart is, it’s where you rest your head at night and get sleep. It’s where you may eat some of your meals. It’s where you hopefully feel safe and confortable and can relax! Everybody, I hope, knows their home to be this!
Now that I’ve dug into the nitty gritty of 3rd spaces, at least for my context in these articles, now the valuable part. How does one use 3rd spaces, and how does one make good use of the trips to and from 3rd spaces? There is so much context and value in the trips to, between, and from third spaces as much as use of the space while you’re visiting 3rd spaces.
The following details how I use 3rd spaces and how I utilize the trips between those spaces. This way I get, and YMMV, the most out of 3rd space use, but also, as extra I’ll detail how many of these practices I follow also work to help me and also not fall into the asshole problem person category for the 3rd places!
The following covered 3rd spaces are the most common 3rd spaces I use: coffee shops, passenger trains, city transit, Seattle & Portland parks, and my personal office.
The space that one needs for doing work or even just projects for themselves to creatively problem solve, to learn, or otherwise work toward accomplishing a goal varies. Each of the spaces I use are usually pretty good for many of my projects, and all are exceptionally good for getting work done in various ways.
Coffee shops, probably the most frequent 3rd place I visit by an order of magnitude have several factors that dictate their usefulness. A few questions always dictates whether a coffee shop is going to be a good 3rd place;
- Is the coffee (tea, beer, etc) good?
- Do they have decent snacks and food?
- Are the staff cool, friendly, and ok with loiterers?
- Is there power that is readily available to plug into?
- Is there good wifi amidst the volume of people?
- What is the busy-ness of the business? Crowded?
- Can I easily not fall into being an asshole? (see mitigation below)
- What’s the combination of all the above?
With a good mix of the following, I have frequented multiple coffee shops each day to finish out a solid work day. But just working at coffee shops is one things, there is something else they’re exceptionally good for – meeting other folks! During the work day I routinely coordinate which coffee shop to be at, with who I might schedule a meeting with to discuss a wide range of things; software architecture, business ideas, or other prospects.
Asshole alert and mitigation practices! One thing about coffee shops is that they are businesses, usually local private businesses. In that sense they have to make money for staff, to keep the lights on and the wifi connected, and doing so means turning seats and selling product. Thus, don’t loiter and take up seats or defer the selling of products. If you do, you are indeed being one of those assholes that has led to the death of more than a few coffee shops! But it’s simple to not be an asshole. Simply insure you’re paying for product, and if things get extra busy and they’re hitting that stride at making some cash, don’t disturb that and prospectively move along. Thanks, much appreciated! 👍🏻
There are so many great ways to not be an asshole at a coffee shop, and yet reap great benefits from studying and working at a coffee shop I’ll have a complete stand alone post just on this topic in the near future. Especially post-pandemic since we’re all flooding back to 3rd places!
Next up is a favorite 3rd place which combines not only a 3rd place but also traveling to and from other 3rd places, passenger trains! I currently live in Seattle, for the second time of living in Seattle, but in the northwest have mostly lived in Portland. One of the beautiful aspects of living in either of these cities is the intercity rail service called the Amtrak Cascades.
Because of this service I have only ever driven between these cities in a car 6 times out of the 900+ trips I’ve made between these cities since I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest!
- The trains range in being spacious to extremely spacious to work in. On most of the trains, even the commuter trains, there are seat back trays or pull out tables to work on combined with electrical sockets and wifi for some routes. The accomodations, depending on the train, range from coach seats, business & first class, roomettes, and bedrooms as regular options.
- The cities connected are forward thinking, progressive, beautiful, livable, and if done right stunningly convenient cities. With the more innovative and advanced businesses of the United States, still to this day leading technical innovation in the world (maybe not for much longer, but for now it still holds). This provides a lot of reasons to take trips between these cities for work and for pleasure. The lagniappe is, the trains put you directly into the center of these cities!
- Albeit the US doesn’t have trains that tend to be on time, these trains on the west coast are generally on time plus/minus a few minutes except for the Coast Starlight, and even that train isn’t that off schedule these days. So even though you can’t set your watch by modern US rail service like that of the previous centuries, you an at least expect to show up mostly on time! This makes connections and other related trips to 3rd places manageable and business friendly!
Asshole alert and mitigation practices! When taking the train there are a number of things that will put you in the asshole category and I can barely get to the top few here, so like coffee shops I’ll have a follow up article for a longer list. But there two, one that I’m going to put here and I know it’s Amtrak (and Caltrain, Sounder, & all others) supported.
Don’t disturb the staff running the train. Amtrak and other passenger trains may be late, some of the food might not be good, the cars might be warmer or colder than you like. You may want to drink so many beers (cuz you can technically) that you fall down in a drunken stupor and cause a medical emergency. You may get screamo and yell at the staff. Every single person on the train ceases to care about your problem then, and we all await your imminent detraining event when the police show up and remove your jack ass self. So please, do NOT turn into this asshole and delay the entire roster of folks trying to get from point A to point B!
This next one is a personal – and I know most people’s – peve about some folks that have a lack of situational awareness and a mouth breathing problem. If you talk loudly in the northwest it’s best to remove yourself from the passenger car and head off to the Bistro, Diner, or Lounge Car to talk. You’re epicly annoying and most northwesterners won’t tell you, I however am from the south and wasn’t taught to stand idly by while you mouth breath loud utterances around from a lack of situational aweareness like an asshole. Even more so when you’re falgrantly downing your beers, I will instigate getting you kicked off the train. Uplevel that situational awareness and don’t be that asshole while on the train. Thanks, much appreciated! 👍🏻
Ok, some city transit is horrible as a 3rd place. Most buses are a no go because combined with the poor state of most roads (like in Seattle) one can’t do all that much on them. Limiting their use. But other modes are spectacularly effective, for example;
Seattle Ferries are one of the most relaxing, wonderful, and convenient ways to travel across vast expanses of water while comfortably working or just relaxing. They are great for trips to 3rd places as well as being excellent 3rd places themselves. I’ve even gone and sat on a ferry, then gotten off (cuz they usually make ya at one end or the other) and then just reboarded, just to enjoy the trip while working.
Light Rail (MAX, LINK, etc) is one of my favorites too for short hauls back and forth between areas but also as a mode that – when not too busy – is great to just get into a comfortable corner seat and watch the views go by while working on various things. There aren’t electrical sockets or wifi, but nothing a good charge and tethering won’t fix these days.
More on transit as a displacement vehicle between 3rd places below. Suffice to say though, some transit can indeed be the 3rd place itself!
Asshole alert and mitigation practices! The biggest thing with transit usage, when using it as a 3rd place, is similar to the above – if it’s busy just displace again. Don’t sit on a bus or tram or light rail vehicle or the ferries (which are never that packed fortunately) if it’s packed then move along. Don’t take up space by people trying to use the transit for its intended purpose of going from place A to place B. Thanks, much appreciated! 👍🏻
Almost every Seattle & Portland Park is most epic and enjoyable as a 3rd place to relax and work in. Again, with the advent of usable tethering and battery life in laptops, combined with a little wifi in some parks, these spaces can be some of the most enjoyable and amazing places to get some workdone while enjoying your best life!
Often there are benches or other amenities in parks that are good, but there are also park benches along with picnic tables that really multiply the usefulness of using a park as a place to work and think creatively. Combine that with more than a few natural characteristics, such as in Seattle there are rocks down along the shore. Albeit risky, a climb down across the rocks can lead to a comfortable and close to the water seat.
Recently I took a ride (more on this trip type below) to the waterfront in downtown Seattle. Spent a couple hours working right on the waters’ edge, and got a significant amount of work done along with enjoying that view and scenary extensively. I even cut together a narrative of that trip here, included for you to view at your convenience. 🤙🏻
Asshole alert and mitigation practices! I’m gonna just assume you’re smart enough not to litter, burn down, desecrate, graffiti, or otherwise mess up a park. So on to one of the lesser known asshole park activities. Take for example, if you’re working in a park that’s fairly occuppied then don’t take loud conference calls. This also, just like littering, desecration, and graffitying natural lands shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but it does sometimes escape us. Be aware, work on that situational awareness, and don’t wreck other people’s zen. Thanks, much appreciated! 👍🏻
No asshole alert and mititgation practices for this one because of obvious reasons!
One of the things that I learned years ago while working remotely was that it is indeed really ideal to have a 99.99999% reliable location away from homethat can act as a workplace for work as well as projects or other things that might come up. If you get an office with public space for conferene rooms and such even better! Sometimes, one can even write off some of these costs or even charge it back to the employer if you’ve worked that out in your contract!
A personal office provides that space that isn’t at risk of being disturbed by assholes, you can ensure the wifi or internet connection is good, the door is open based upon your need at any time, and generally removes all of the risk of relying on other 3rd places! The downsides are almost always just the cost of having said 3rd place.
Almost all of us have spent inordinate amounts of time traveling back and forth – for Americans largely by driving – to 3rd places. That is one way that someone could get between places, but I opt not to drive places. So much so, I stopped owning a car from a lack of need over 11 years ago now. One of the beauties of the northwestern cities of Eugene, Salem, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and a few I’ve forgotten. These cities provide numerous opportunities to make the trips between 3rd places without a car. I’ve made great use of this amenity in the northwest. So why make use of this amenity? Here’s my list and of course YMMV.
Getting from 3rd place to 3rd place, with a toddler or grown ass adults, or all alone I make it enjoyable, work productive, and entertaining for myself. Whatever the modal option, I try to make it so that I get multiple uses out of the trip.
One method I use is combining multiple trips into one trip via trip chaining. An example would be; going to a park to work, stopping for a meeting, catching pizza with a team to discuss architecture, having a design meeting, and then getting groceries on the route home. This is a great example of trip chainingthat, in a place like Seattle or Portland is really easy with lots of options to mix and match however you like!
The other characteristic of the trip is while I’m moving toward the destination am I also getting something else accomplished? If I’m cycling am I getting some exercise? Am I runnig some additional errands on the way? Am I riding with some others? Am I going to be able to work on the modal option, such as taking the bus, tram, light rail, or ferry? Is the trip as much a 3rd place as the 3rd place I’m going to? I never like to take a trip that isn’t multipurpose in function. Since I don’t drive daily, those trips have all pretty much ceased to exist for me. It’s a great feeling to get things done, even when getting things done, to get evven more things done. It’s true multi-tasking like we wished our brains could enable us to do!
Overall, here are the modal option that I specifically use for my day to day trips to and from 3rd spaces…
Pedestrian Movement! This is simply walking. If there is a reasonable way to walk to most of the 3rd places and related activities I need to undertake then it is the option I’ll choose. It’s the cheapest, one of the healthiest, and generally convenient ways to move about the world. It’s spectacular that it is our default mode of transport on this fancy planet of ours.
Biking from place to place is great where the city is designed and developed well (if biking aint your thing, skip to the next modal option). This includes almost any city with reasonably urban and original city platting (i.e. the cities with grids) areas in the United States. Which for city specific things, if you live urban or in what are the old streetcar suburbs, is the fastest and likely the most efficient way from point A to point B. Parking is rarely a problem, owning several bikes for each trip type is cheap over time by comparison to other modal options. The only thing more environmentally friendly is walking, so you can rest easy in the ethical realm!
A few options to make things ridiculously easy, involves a few bikes and bike options I have.
- Everyday hauler of things, Space Horse. This bike provides point to point travel with the possibility of over 100lbs of carry weight on frame via panniers. Adding my backpack and I easily get into the 140 lbs range if needed. The reasoning however is it provides the ability to carry more groceries than the average American buys at Costco (i.e. a LOT of food) all the while loaded up with laptop plus hammock and everything else I’d need to hang out in a 3rd place and get things done comfortably! Even with all that carry capacity, I can easily pop off the panniers while loaded and rack load onto a bus or light rail if need be for that “I got lazy now” trip home!
- Zippy get there and back, Pop Rocket. This bike I use for quick trips, it’s real light and maneuverable, where I’ll just carry my backpack or I just need to show up and won’t really need to haul anything. Easy to also combine with transit if I wanted to say, skip a hill or just felt like watching videos, or need to whip out the laptop because heaven forbid I got paged while on pager duty!
- Boldly Bendy Brompton Bike. This bike I use when I want to be able to bring it into and out of locations. It has been my go to bike when I record meetups like “Adam Dymitruk: Event Modeling & James Nugent: Events and Distributed Consensus”, “Dave Remy, Event Sourcing Primer: Building source systems using the event sourcing pattern” and “Robin Moffatt, Apache Kafka and KSQL in Action: Let’s Build a Streaming Data Pipeline!”for example. I have a front mount bag and a back rack that is perfect for everything I need. All while being able to be folded up and brought into the meeting location or onto a bus or other mode if necessary. To boot, I’ve used this bike for it’s intended purpose too such as when I took the trip to DC for DataStax’s Accelerate user conference. Riding into and out of International in DC was a stellar experience and that continued everyday of the conference as I road across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge to the conference center from Alexandria, Virginia. An absolutely stellar experience traveling between 3rd places.
- Surly Trailer. Ok, sometimes you have to go above and beyond a mere bike frame and need to haul some big stuff. This trailer I purchased years ago and, like the nerd that I am have kept track of various metrics. One of those metrics is the fact I’ve carried multiple metric tons over the lifespan of this trailer. From a multile hundred pound Ikea load to moving from house A to house B in Ballard, I’ve done a lot with this trailer. It attaches with a quick screw on and screwing off so I don’t need any special hardware.
- Future Bike (i.e. that I don’t own yet). The Urban Arrow is great for carrying even more groceries than listed above, for carrying a child and groceries, or for carrying an adult and groceries with a child sitting on their lap. It’s all up to me! Yay for options! All with that extra electric power to get those multiple hundred pounds up and down the hills of Seattle.
All those bikes and gear combined add up to as many or more options than one generally has with an automobile in the city, at half the cost of a little Honda Fit, with the ability to routinely make better time to lcoations in the city than folks driving! I’ve literally decimated schedules in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver BC, New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, and other cities with a transit + bike trip option. Easily getting 10-500% more out of a busy day with meetings in different parts of the city. Arguably, when in NYC, PDX, and SEA I have had days that literally would not have been possible to schedule if driving. But were no problem with a bike. Now of course you add the auto-dependent suburbs and you’ll be debilitated, unable to acheive anything like I’ve described here because of the poorly zoned layout of the space. So I just highly suggest avoiding the auto-dependent suburbs if you want 3rd spaces – and especially the trip between 3rd spaces – to work most efficiently for you.
Next up, passenger trains freakin’ rule for movement between 3rd spaces. In addition, they are a 3rd place unto themselves, and can provide extensive focus to get work done as well as to recharge. At least, for folks like me with that ADHD it’s one modal option that can serve multiple purposes like that.
One other thing that works great on trains, if one can manage to coordinate this, is to have meetings with other coders or cohort via the Bistro, Diner, or Lounge car. These are great spaces to have meetings, enjoy life at the same time, and really do that ideation thing I always hear about!
Ferries are a choice I’d really like to utilize more, albeit I don’t usually head off to the islands to get work done or have meetings. However, thanks to some creative minds there have been conferences in Bremerton, meetings in Bainbridge, and other organization work that gets done on some of the other islands. So combining the ferries with other modes, chainging the 3rd places together, can create some immensely useful, enjoyable, and productive worktime.
That’s my big list of ways to utilize 3rd places, and the travel to and from those 3rd places, to get things done for work. But not just work, I utilize this time to combinge rest, relaxation, and efficiency of modal splits to get things done for myself as well! I hope the list is somewhat useful to at minimum, light some ideas in mind in how to improve your own enjoyment while getting things done for work and for yourself. Cheers!