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Do less, better and squash the urge to rush through life

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Tom Ford

Professional squash player Tom Ford (pictured) believes adopting a ‘do less, better’ philosophy will lead to athletes deriving more enjoyment from tasks, which in turn will act as a springboard to increasing productivity and improving performance. Should coaches, then, be placing the emphasis on quality rather than quantity in their training sessions?

  • We consistently fail to give our full concentration to tasks because we are too busy thinking about the next item on our agenda.
  • We should reduce the number of tasks and squeeze everything we can from those we have prioritised.
  • Better organisational planning and changing your mindset will not only help you become better at your craft, you will most likely enjoy the whole process more too.

I know, I know, there just aren’t enough hours in the day; you haven’t got time for this; you’re in a race against the clock; you’ve got to hurry up, or else.

Time, it seems, is against us all. It is a distressing symptom of modern life. We are rushing about so much that we can no longer see the wood for the trees. So heavily focused are we on the tasks lying just around the corner that we rush the one in front of us and lose sight of the bigger picture.

The truth is, rushing to save time is a complete a waste of our time, in that it is self-defeating. Trying to cram too many tasks into one hour, or one day, simply reduces your effectiveness and makes you more prone to error and burnout.

In a sporting context, learning opportunities are being squandered and anxieties magnified.

Both coaches and athletes must learn to start calling a timeout at strategically important times to enable us to rest our minds, reflect and rethink.

Apply the brakes

Professional squash player Tom Ford says that our tendency to judge each day based on how much we do as opposed to the quality with which we do it, impacts us adversely in a whole number of ways.

Most of us are guilty of not stopping to consider what the psychological, emotional, social and physical consequences may be of rushing trance-like from one job to the next.

‘How often is something rushed to be completed just to move on to the next thing?’ says Tom, ‘Or not done with full concentration because you are too busy thinking about all the other things you need to do after?’

‘Less is more’ is a productivity and performance paradox that flies in the face of conventional wisdom – the perception that the greater the workload you can handle, the greater the level of success you will achieve.

Tom agrees that reducing the number of tasks, and then ‘squeezing everything you can’ from the ones you have prioritised, can set off a positive chain reaction that leads to increased productivity and improved performance. But he says the real key to fulfilment, and the beauty of knowing when to put your foot on the brake pedal, is that the more you slow down, concentrate and fully engage, the more fun you will have on the way.

‘I find it ironic,’ says Tom. ‘We are led to believe that the end result is what provides the fun – or once you’ve reached a level of success or achieved a goal, then you can have fun – but the reality is different. Certainly that is what I have found playing squash.

‘I would say, if you can enjoy the process, not only will you probably reach your goal but it will be a whole lot less stressful and you probably won’t feel quite so unfulfilled when you achieve it.

‘Most things are fun if you take the time to enjoy them, but often we don’t because our minds are already focused on the next task or worrying because of what we might or might not have done.’

Tom freely admits that doing less, better is not a new concept in the world of psychology but that through his experience of playing professional squash, it was something that slowly began to resonate with him.

‘I’m passionate about the power of the mind and the importance of mental training and being a well-rounded human being – and how that makes you better at your craft, with the potential to enjoy it a lot more too,’ he says.


Life-changing decision

Tom grew up on the England Squash performance pathway. At the age of 10 he was assigned a coach, and for the next eight years embarked on a gruelling training, practice, playing cycle which left little room for enjoyment.

‘From 10 to 18 I was working way too hard and not taking into account any of the things we have been discussing.’

This led to him seeking out one of England’s most highly regarded squash coaches, Hadrian Stiff, who quickly became a mentor.

Hadrian was as instrumental in Tom’s off court psychological development as his on court technical progress.

‘Just to talk to someone else outside of England Squash was so valuable. That journey completely changed my outlook and while Hadrian initiated it, and opened up new ideas, I would describe it as being my own journey of self-discovery which he supported, with his support role slowly tapering off as I discovered more about the power of the mind.

‘It’s why I love any kind of learning philosophy, whether it’s business, sports coaching or any other area of life, that goes beyond the particular skill being taught, so that it affects the person on a greater level.’

Tom believes there should be more emphasis on challenging the norm and not being afraid to do things outside the box, as this is the key to unlocking the power of creativity and fun – a dynamic double act when it comes to learning and development.

Emotional and physical breakdown

If your mind is a speeding conveyor belt of thoughts and you rush through life (or through training) like Wile E Coyote chasing road runner, then this will not only eradicate the chances of having fun and diminish capability, it will also frazzle your emotions.

Over a period of time this will likely manifest itself in physical symptoms, such as anxiety, depression or burnout.

The key to recapturing your clarity of thought is better organisational planning (prioritisation and time management) and changing your mindset, says Tom.

This is where an astute coach can be of service.

‘Time management mainly implies priority management. If you are an athlete who struggles with this, a coach will be able to help you discard distractions and spend more time on what matters.’

Coaches can also help their participants by adopting some of these simple procedures:

  • design session plans with built-in time for purposeful reflection (to help athletes retain what they have learnt – and before the mind has a chance to wander)
  • provide feedback (or even rest intervals) before, during and after games, skills and fitness activities. Aside from the fact meaningful feedback enhances learning, it will also help interrupt the unrelenting pace of a busy session, offering a welcome pause for breath to take stock
  • bullet-point your structured session plan. Marking each task down on paper will help with your own personal development by providing a quick reference point for reflective practice but will also prevent you getting your routine confused during training itself – a repercussion of this being a tendency to rush straight to the next task
  • design sessions that increase the amount of deliberate practice, whereby your athletes are fully absorbed in what they are doing, rather than simply going through the motions (resulting in fluctuating concentration levels).

‘When you take this time to slow down and give your fullest attention to each moment, there is so much more power, presence, and enjoyment behind what you do,’ says Tom.

‘From an organisational standpoint, it you have very clear ideas of what your priorities are, and spend the time analysing exactly why you are doing what you are doing, then it is much easier to make decisions, and particularly decisions not to do things. That’s important because we often fail to differentiate between those tasks that are most beneficial to us with those that won’t benefit us at all.’

Hopefully, Tom’s empowering message will have persuaded people to resist the urge to run around like headless chickens, going through life on autopilot (and making it impossible to sustain any real quality of practice), and recognise that doing less can get better results if you commit yourself purposefully to a task through deep concentration.

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Comments (1)


Great article with many valuable lessons to take from it. Links in also with Daniel Pink's arguments around Mastery in his book Drive (worth a read if you haven't yet).

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Thanks Catherine! I appreciate you taking the time to read it :) I'll check out that book!

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