Sometimes it feels like there's just way too much to do and too little time.

You may believe that, but it's not necessarily true. Perhaps you're just spreading yourself too thin, and that can change.

There are many helpful productivity and time-management tips, but I believe the most powerful one is the art of saying no.

That's no to yourself, no to employees, no to friends, and, yes, even no (sometimes) to clients. Reflect upon the times that you have regretted saying yes to something that took you away from your primary focus. How much time and stress would it have saved you if you had uttered one little word?

But how do you say no to your own mother when she calls to chat in the middle of the day? Or to the client who expects you to go beyond the scope of a project without their paying for the extra work? What about all of those cool ideas that enter your mind; how do you say no to yourself and remain focused on what's most important?

Here's a hint: You can say no without uttering the word. Here are three simple guidelines that might just make your life easier.

1. Don't respond immediately.

When you are asked to do something that isn't a part of your primary focus, simply tell the person that you will get back to them. Take a little time to assess the pros and cons of saying yes. Reflect upon your goals and review how saying yes will affect them.

Even if it's a simple request, it may put you behind schedule. Is it worth it? You have a right to say no, and once you begin to see the results, this little word will roll off your tongue with greater ease.

2. Consider creative solutions.

Sometimes we say yes because we just want to be nice. Saying no does not mean that you aren't a nice person; it simply means that you have priorities and boundaries. When someone comes to you with a request that you would like to fulfill but it would put a crimp in your schedule, think about giving them a partial yes--or offer another solution.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a group on very short notice. I really wanted to do it to help them out, but I knew the cost. Following my own advice, I offered to get back to the meeting planner by the end of the day. I decided that I simply couldn't take the time out of my schedule right now, so I called a peer and asked her permission to pass her name along as a potential speaker. Then I called the meeting planner with this wonderful solution and a commitment to speak to her group in January instead. No doesn't necessarily mean never.

3. Keep it simple: Never overexplain or apologize profusely.

You do not have to apologize for doing what's right for you and your business. If you are kind in your response and offer a few very simple words of explanation, most people will respect you for it. Take a moment to put yourself in the other person's position and choose the words that seem most appropriate for their personality type. If they are direct, be brief and direct; if they are emotional, use a more compassionate tone.

Remember that long explanations and apologies may backfire, causing the other party to push harder and you to question your decision. Don't complicate the situation; just kindly say no with a brief explanation (one sentence) or creative solution attached.

Just for fun, keep a list of your progress. If you say no to picking up the phone when your friend (or even your mother) calls during your workday, jot down how much time you saved, and call them back during a time when you can both enjoy the conversation. Resist the hasty yes, and keep track of your time savings for a week or two. Soon you will be delivering a powerful no with ease!