“Do first things first, and second things not at all.”

— Peter Drucker

There have been times in my life when I relished getting more done in a day than most people. Having a long to-do list was once one of my most prized possessions. But this is not the case anymore. A short while ago, I decided that the one thing that I really wanted to change in my life was to no longer rush around. That’s right. No rushing. And also to make it a rule to be mindful when others are trying to rush me.

So how did I do this? It took me a few years to slow down and focus on creating my own“no rush” zone. Here is what I have learned so far.

Step 1: Decide to Do Less

Over the years, I have been a big believer in goal planning, to do lists, and action items. I am still hooked on the paper and pen method of writing down my tasks for the day and week ahead. But my to-do list now generally only has 3–5 things per day on it. I am careful to only put things on the list that are fairly certain to get accomplished that day or at least will move to another day later in the week. I am also religious about keeping ongoing lists — especially for groceries, supplies, and pet food.

Here are some of the benefits of this approach:

• Focus on what’s most important

• Be specific with daily tasks

• Achieve measurable results

• Prioritize the most important activities

• Improve little by little

• Avoid unnecessary injuries and strains

• Meet deadlines

• Free up more time

Step 2: Practice “Timeboxing”

I first encountered the term and technique “Timeboxing” from the Project Management Institute. According to Simplilearn, “Timeboxing is a feature of software development technology that plans and allots time boxes for different activities. Timeboxing enables separation of different time boxes for various tasks and processes within a project along with their own deliverables, budget and deadline. The idea behind timeboxing is to set a fixed time limit to a certain activity in order to generate focus sharply on the expected outcomes from that particular activity.”

While I am by no means an expert on this, here’s how this technique has helped me so far:

· Ask this question: What are the top 1–3 things that are important to accomplish over the next year or project phase?

· Write down the top priorities and think about them for a few days. Are these the right ones? If not, change them until you are not only committed to them but also have a sense of excitement about them.

· Create a system that works for you to monitor the priority/priorities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

· Be disciplined in following the guidelines and strategy that you follow.

· Build in flexibility that while there will be improvements, there may also be times with little or no progress.

· Think of time increments in terms of ranges, such as 15–30 minutes for a meeting or 30–60 minutes for a workout or 60–90 minutes for a shopping trip.

· Say “stop” when it is time to finish.

Step 3: Do First Things First

My grandmother taught me many things. First off, I remember that she used to make it a point to wash the dishes immediately after dinner. She had an evening routine down pat — either wash the dishes and put them away or put the dishes in the dishwasher every night. She put on her apron and took care of first things first. She smiled when it was all done.

I now make it a point to wash the dishes every night before sitting down to relax. Besides waking up to a clean kitchen in the morning, this routine also frees up more time to enjoy the mornings — from watching beautiful sunrises and listening to music to playing with my cats and reading the newspaper.

My grandmother used to say “Thanks for Everything” all the time. After a phone conversation. After a visit at her house. After checking out at the supermarket. And saying those three simple words every day is the best lesson of all to have more time to enjoy the little things!

Originally published at medium.com