Being busy has become a status-symbol of sorts. I hear entrepreneurs bragging quite a lot about how little sleep they get -- or how many different projects they're working on. I almost always hear that they wish they had less on their plate. If there was less pressure -- this would let them put more energy into fewer activities and have more leisure time.

Whether it's a meal with a friend -- helping with a side project, or attending meetings and conferences -- saying "no" to commitments is challenging. Now, connectivity gives more options than ever -- and there's such a vast number of important and interesting problems to work on. It can be especially difficult when you're running your own venture. There's a cultural obsession and glorification of startup success that adds to the pressure. 

Where many run into issues is when they devote too many resources or too much effort to tasks that are lower in priority. When you learn how to say "no" you'll spend more time on what you care most about. Watch -- and measure for yourself -- the dramatic improvements you may see in your happiness, productivity, and success.

To get better at saying "no" and work smarter while doing more of what you want -- follow these simple steps:

Imagine your future self in the proposed situation.

Whether it's a large or small event or project you're considering committing to, imagine yourself in that situation. Think about what it would require of you personally. How much energy do you want to expend on this activity? With whom would you be working or spending time? Will this next experience fit in with your other responsibilities?

It can be easy to say "yes" to leading such an event if you think you'll pick up new skills or receive praise. However, you're making a rash decision if you don't also consider the time commitment. The people you'd work with and everything else on your plate can change something that looked enticing into a turn off.

Put a picture of yourself in the future to give you a more realistic perspective of what the commitment actually looks like. No more quick, impulsive answers from you.

Imagine where your head space will be.

Smaller commitments still require an imagination -- and knowledge of where your head space will be at that time.

For example, agreeing to help your friend build their website after work might not sound time consuming at first. Remembering that it will be after a 10-hour work day -- or a long commute home -- changes the look of the project. Will there be any energy left afterwards to devote to family? Probably not.

Remember that you almost never owe anybody anything.

I used to have a hard time saying "no" to commitments because I'd feel bad. This is common if you believe you owe other people or just want to be liked by everyone.

I got over this hump by realizing that a.) not everyone is destined to like you and b.) people tend not to expect as much as you think. Each time you say "yes" when you don't want to -- expectations increase. If you're not excited about something -- there's likely someone else who can give the work more energy. Ultimately, it's your life and you have to live it for yourself.

Remember that you can do anything with your time.

Some people all too easily accept tasks or new projects passively. But, a more productive route, and one that leads to higher personal growth, is to be proactive about what you take on. Time spent on one thing means time not spent on literally everything else.

That means the opportunity cost of a day-long conference -- where you give a 20-minute speech -- isn't just missing a day of work. It's literally using up your limited supply of energy and avoiding other work that you'd rather be doing. When you realize this truth -- it will help you prioritize and choose what is most important to you.

Think about your motive behind any given commitment. Is there a better option?

When someone asks you to take on a new project, It's easy to say, "This is good because it will teach me more about Microsoft Excel."

If your goal is to learn about Microsoft Excel -- is this project the best way to do so? Would you be better off sitting down and taking a two-hour intensive course? Or do you want to be working on this project for an extensive period of time -- repeating the same functions over and over?

When you are presented with an opportunity -- really think about why you would want to do it. Ask yourself, "Is there's a better, faster way to accomplish this goal?" Give yourself a few moments before saying "yes" to any project -- and be free to do more of what you want.