As a small-business owner you're constantly saying yes: to opportunities, to ideas, to ways to grow your business. Saying yes is a crucial element in your success.

But so is saying no.

Here's a guest post from Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketer who teaches people how to create meaningful self-employed careers. (His online courses "Launching a Business While Working" and "Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal" can teach you how to start and grow your own business while working a full-time job.)

Here’s Ryan:

As an entrepreneur, you need to learn how to say no.

In fact, if you want to be successful, you need to learn how to say no to almost everything that comes your way. With success and fame, will come an incredible influx of people placing requests and demands on your time -- which is without a doubt your most valuable resource.

However, not enough is said about the importance of very consciously allocating your time before you've hit it big.

How you use your time when you're just getting started with your business and while you're in the midst of growing it will significantly impact how successful you become.

Don't just take my word for it; this advice from Jacqueline Whitmore, an author, researcher, and seasoned entrepreneur preaches placing the same importance on opportunity management. Jacqueline is also a huge proponent of saying yes only to opportunities that drive her core business goals.

Here's why she believes people have a difficult time turning down others: "Deep down inside we all want to be liked, so we worry that saying no will change the way others view us."

I could not agree more. A successful entrepreneur is ruthless when it comes to time management, and that is where saying no comes in. You need to very carefully guard your "yes" and make sure to fully evaluate the impact of accepting opportunities that come your way.

Of course it helps tremendously if you also know what you're best at. Pick up this Skill Assessment Sheet and determine your strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur.

This is particularly the case if your natural tendency is to be a people pleaser. It sucks to feel like you're letting others down. However, if you're constantly saying yes to the demands other people place on your time, you're being reactive and not proactive.

That is something I used to struggle with myself. But not anymore.

To combat this tendency in my own business, I've created a detailed system for rigorously evaluating everything I spend my time on, so that I make sure I'm only working on projects that are getting me closer to launching products, growing my audience, and helping others.

Core to my "Just Say No" Time Management System is the belief that you should only be doing what you do best, and that you should very actively outsource the rest. This is also how incredibly successful entrepreneurs like Tim Ferris have focused on driving the most impact in their businesses.

It's no secret that even the most motivated entrepreneurs regularly squander time. Actually, I'm a firm believer that frequent relaxation is healthy and absolutely imperative to staying sane.

In fact, a recent study has shown that the optimal amount of time you should work each week -- for maximum productivity -- may be just 35 hours.

People in the study who consistently worked 60-hour weeks showed steadily declining productivity compared to those who stuck to an average of 35 hours per week.

Researchers found that when you work extra-long weeks, your productivity may at first spike, but over time your it takes a serious nosedive as you get more fatigued, stressed, and burnt out. What's even more interesting is that while people are not typically more productive when working extra-long weeks, they feel that they are.

Multitasking has a similar effect, notes author and entrepreneur, Peter Bregman.

With this in mind, you need to be extremely vigilant about how you're spending your time when you sit down to focus on doing work.

Whether it's scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching TV, shopping online, answering unimportant emails, or reading celebrity gossip articles, I'm willing to bet you're spending some of your precious work time on activities that are detracting from your own potential to succeed.

William Penn put it very succinctly way back during the 17th century: "Time is what we want most, but what we use worst."

Here are the questions I ask myself in order to evaluate every single request that would require my time investment (this happens many times each day). These three questions form the foundation of my "Just Say No" Time Management System.

1. Will doing this benefit me in some way?

Before you get all up in arms, approach this question with an open mind. Benefits can come in many forms. Aside from the obvious of a financial return on my time spent, I could be learning something valuable, helping someone to accomplish their goals, or planting the seeds of a long-term relationship that may prove to be mutually beneficial down the road.

I spend a few hours each week responding to the emails I get from my readers, most commonly on topics related to how they can go about starting their own businesses while they keep their full-time jobs, something I've done several times and written about extensively (you can email me questions anytime at ryan at ryrob dot com).

Because I get an immediate benefit in the form of both feeling good helping others based on my experiences, and also learning how I can better help my readers in the future, it's completely worth my time investment. I'm spending my time, which I place a very high value on, yet because I benefit so greatly from the experience, I can justify making nothing in exchange.

Here's an example of a seemingly awesome opportunity I recently turned down, because it didn't appear to have foreseeable benefits for my business goals.

This week I was approached by the owner of a fairly popular blog and asked to share my experiences on generating a side income that plants the seeds of launching a self-employed career. It was an unpaid opportunity and the audience for their blog appears to be concentrated in older-aged men looking to start a business for themselves later in life.

While I love writing about and sharing on this exact topic, the reason I turned it down (for now) is two-fold.

First, their audience isn't a demographic match for most of the people within my community right now, and it's not a demographic I’m actively seeking to bring in at the moment. Second, since the opportunity was unpaid, my projected time investment in creating high quality content for their website doesn't pan out when I compare spending that same amount of time on creating (free) content that my target demographic of younger entrepreneurs would be more interested in.

So, with each opportunity that comes your way, ask yourself if there are any foreseeable benefits to you and your business. If the answer to this is yes, then proceed to the next question. But If you've quickly determined there are no foreseeable benefits, kindly turn down the offer.

2. Is this something I can (and want to) do?

I'm very honest with myself, and you need to be too.

If an opportunity comes my way that would indeed benefit me, but it's not within my core competencies (or I don’t want to do it), I'll politely turn the opportunity down and if possible, offer an alternative solution.

For example, because I've built almost all of this website myself, I've been asked by several readers, blog owners, and entrepreneurs if I'd be available for hire to create or upgrade their websites for them. While the financial benefits would certainly be there for the freelance hourly rate I charge, building WordPress websites is not what I am best at. It's not the skill I want to drastically improve, and it's not what I'm making myself known for.

Even though these projects would financially benefit me and I can absolutely complete them, I actively choose to decline these offers because I'm wholeheartedly focused on my current priorities. I don't want to take on a distraction like this if it doesn't also benefit my current business goals of launching courses, growing my audience, and helping other entrepreneurs.

At times, well-aligned opportunities will come your way, and you need to be poised to recognize those quickly and take action. When I noticed that About.com had a vacancy in the curator position for their entrepreneurship site, I quickly reached out and threw my name in the hat. Because this opportunity would afford me a new platform to distribute my content on, and drive audience to my personal website, it's well worth the time investment and further supports my core business goals.

However, there will be more opportunities that come your way while you're starting and growing a business that appear to have massive potential benefits, but will require you to change directions, learn a new skill, or bring on outside help. My recommendation is to carefully evaluate these opportunities at this stage, and determine if it's worth it to change the focus of your business. For me, I very rarely entertain these opportunities when they require a significant investment of time or financial resources.

If you're head down building a website or app to validate your business idea, and you're approached by a potential freelance client to help them create their app for a handsome sum, you need to be prepared to address that opportunity head on.

I'd argue there's almost no dollar amount that could sway me from pursuing my personal business goals because of the immense benefits on multiple fronts that I get out of working on my own projects. You need to have that level of conviction and focus in order to press on and achieve what’s most meaningful to you.

If you've answered in the affirmative that an opportunity both benefits you and is within your core competencies, move on to the final step in the system.

3. Is this more important than what I’m working on right now?

"Just Say No" Time Management is all about prioritization. The tasks with the largest potential impact need to be done first, and as new opportunities make it this far in your funnel, they need to be properly prioritized so you're not detracting from your core goals.

When a paid opportunity to write for a major publication comes my way, I'll often redirect what I'm working on to address it right away. Aside from the quick financial benefits, it's perfectly aligned with my strengths and audience building goals, and with certain publications it's more impactful for me to publish content on their site versus on my own blog.

Now, if the opportunity makes it this far but isn't deserving of my immediate attention, I'll add it to my "Opportunities" Trello board and rank it accordingly. I'll get to it later this week, next week, or next month depending on the urgency, deadline, or timing as it relates to my priorities.

I also apply this prioritization system within my blog content pipeline for this website. If a new content idea comes in that trumps a current post I'm working on, I'll rank it above others and place it Next on Deck. Here's a snapshot of how I prioritize and rank my blog content ideas. This is another company that's using Trello to prioritize what's important.

With questions that come in from my readers, I set aside time each weekend to personally write back to each person, because that's very important to me. However, it's not worth the negative impact of shifting mental gears to address each individual email as they come through.

Keep in mind that your life is but a sequence of big and small choices and decisions. Especially in business, how you choose to manage those decisions will dictate your success or failure.

To help me accomplish more of my goals and be better prepared to say yes to more well-aligned opportunities that come my way, I very actively outsource labor where it could be done quicker or more affordably by someone else.

I use talented freelancers from Upwork and my personal networks to help with writing and outlining blog content when I get behind, for help adding tricky features to my website, for designing infographics, and much more.

In the world of entrepreneurship, strengths are recognized and reinforced. Continue to dedicate more of your time to honing them while you outsource your weaknesses and focus on doing what you do best.

Published on: Sep 22, 2015