Nancy Reagan said it first in a different context, but the words apply to your business operation as well.

Just Say No.

As an entrepreneur nurturing a new business, knowing when and how to say that simple word is a skill you must develop.

The inability to say no when the situation calls for it can seriously hinder your company's progress and cause it to fall short of its potential. Here's how:

Most company leaders devote a lot of hours to their enterprises. It's probably not unusual for you to work 12-hour days, and you may even work seven days a week.

But how much of that time is spent optimally--doing things that truly enhance your business and help it grow? When you look closely at how you spend your time, you might be surprised to find that you're wasting as much as half to two-thirds of it on tasks that contribute little toward success.

It's all about efficiency. To maximize efficiency, you must say no to time-killers and distractions.

As my firm grew over the past three decades, I learned the need to draw boundaries for how I spent my time. First I identified the time-killers and distractions, and then I found ways to eliminate or avoid them. So can you.

For example, do you find that certain people seem to come to your office regularly with minor needs or complaints? Here's my solution for that: When a staff member says, "Hey, I have a problem with such and such," I say, "Great. Let's talk about it the day after tomorrow, and you can tell me how you've fixed it."

Guess what? The odds are high that the meeting won't occur because the staffer realizes he or she is empowered--and expected--to solve the problem. They don't need my help at all. As a result, both of us are more effective at our jobs.

The biggest and most dangerous distraction, though, is to be tempted by some new business idea or opportunity. You're a bright person, and you have bright people working for you. Brilliant ideas will come along--new products, markets, strategies--but if they're not directly part of your already-stated mission, they can cause your business to collapse. For example, if you're B2C and you come upon a great idea that would let you move into the B2B market, just say no. It's not what you do or who you are. Stick with your business plan and focus on executing it before you say yes to something new. Sometimes, the best investments are the ones you don't make.

Saying no can be difficult at times, but--like most other talents--you can develop this one with patience and practice. It's an essential tool for business success.