Ryan Robinson is an entrepreneur and content 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.

 

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 – and time 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.

Take this advice from Jacqueline Whitmore on why it’s crucial that you manage your opportunities. Whitmore believes people have a difficult time turning down others because “Deep down inside we all want to be liked, so we worry that saying ‘no’ will change the way others view us.”

A successful entrepreneur is ruthless when it comes to time management, and this is where saying “no” comes in. You need to very carefully guard your “yes” and make sure to fully evaluate the potential impact of opportunities that come your way.

This is particularly the case if your natural tendency is to be a people pleaser. It sucks feeling like you’re letting others down. However, if you’re constantly saying yes to the demands other people are placing on your time, you’re being reactive – not proactive in your business.

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

The “Just Say No” Time Management System

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.

Basically, there are three questions to consider before saying “Yes” to a new opportunity:

(click to enlarge)

When should you say "no" to a new opportunity?

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.

“Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

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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 hours you should work each week – for maximum productivity – is on average just 35 hours:

The-Number-of-Hours-to-Work-per-Week-to-Be-Productive

The graph above shows the declining productivity over time for people who consistently worked 60-hour work weeks, as opposed to those who stuck to an average of 35 hours per week.

Researchers in this study found that when you work extra long weeks, your productivity may spike at first, but as time goes by it takes a serious nose dive 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 still feel like they are. Multitasking has a similar effect, notes author and entrepreneur, Peter Bergman.

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

Here are the questions I ask myself in order to evaluate every single request coming my way, that would require my time investment (this happens many times each day). These 3 questions form the foundation of my “Just Say No” Time Management System.

1. Would doing this benefit me in some way?

Benefits can come in many different 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 longterm relationship that may prove to be mutually beneficial further 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 keeping their full-time jobs (in fact, feel free to e-mail me if you have similar questions!).

Because I get an immediate benefit in the form of feeling good helping others, and also from learning how I can better help my readers in the future, this is completely worth my time. 

By contrast, here’s an example of a seemingly awesome opportunity I recently turned down as it didn’t appear to have foreseeable benefits for my business goals.

This week, I was approached by the owner of a fairly popular US business blog who asked me to share my experiences in a post about generating side income that plants the seeds of launching a self-employed career. It was an unpaid opportunity and the audience for their blog leans towards older-aged men, looking to start their own business later in life.

While I love writing about and sharing on this exact topic I turned the request down, for two reasons.

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 for my target demographic of younger entrepreneurs.

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.

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

Start with figuring out what you’re best at. Pick up this Skill Assessment Sheet to determine your strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur.

For example, because I’ve built almost all of my 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. 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 also not a 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 very quickly reached out and threw my name into the hat. Because this opportunity would afford me a new platform to distribute my content on, and drive audience back to my personal website, this is well worth the time investment and further supports my core business goals.

However, there will without a doubt 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 very carefully evaluate these opportunities at this stage, and determine if it’s worth changing the focus of your business.

For me, I very rarely entertain these opportunities when they require a significant investment of time or financial resources.

I’d argue that 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.

But if 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 – if 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 divert from what I’m working on, to accommodate the opportunity right away. Aside from the financial benefits, they are perfectly aligned with my strengths and audience building goals, and with certain publications it’s often smarter for me to publish content on their site as opposed to doing it on my own blog.

But if the opportunity 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 upon the urgency, deadline, or timing as it related to my priorities.

I also apply this prioritization system within my blog content pipeline. 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 in ‘Next on Deck’. Here’s a snapshot of the system in action:

Ryan Robinson Trello Editorial Calendar

There’s another great example from another company here.

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 e-mail immediately.

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 if a task 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 my blog content when I fall behind – but also for help with 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.

If you’re ready to make the commitment and learn how to start & grow a business while working full-time, join my online course and let’s get started today.