by Ryan Robinson
It might seem counterintuitive, but saying no to almost every opportunity that comes my way has been a major positive factor in getting me to where I am today. In fact, one of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned in business is to never be afraid of saying no. With success in business comes a high volume of requests and demands on your time. You need to learn very early on how to protect your time and manage it to your own benefit.
How you use your time while you're growing your business will significantly impact how successful you become.
Author, researcher, and seasoned entrepreneur Jacqueline Whitmore also preaches placing an incredible amount of thought and strategic reasoning into opportunity management for your business. If opportunities are purely business-motivated, you should only say yes to the ones that drive your core business goals
But saying no can be so difficult.
"Deep down inside we all want to be liked, so we worry that saying 'no' will change the way others view us," Jacqueline says.
A successful business owner is ruthless when it comes to time management. You need to very carefully guard your "yes" and make sure to fully evaluate the impact of choosing to accept opportunities that come your way.
If your natural tendency is to be a people pleaser, you need to learn to be even more vigilant with your acceptance of opportunities. I’ll agree, it sucks feeling like you're letting others down. However, if you're constantly saying yes to the demands of others, you're being reactive - not proactive - in your business.
I used to have a very difficult time saying no, so to combat this tendency in my own business, I created a detailed system for rigorously evaluating everything I spend my time on. Now, I make sure I'm only working on projects that are getting me closer to launching more products, growing my audience, and helping others.
I’ve worked several CEOs and small business owners over the years who’ve had trouble with letting go of the things they used to do way back when they founded their companies. From needing to approve every graphic to weighing in on the type of coffee cups for the office, the way many business owners manage their time is counter-intuitive to progression.
All this is not to say you shouldn’t balance your time working with much needed relaxation. I'm a firm believer that frequent down time is healthy and absolutely imperative to maintaining peak performance.
Above, you can see the declining productivity over time of people in the study who consistently worked 60 hour work weeks, as compared to those who stuck to an average of 35 hours per week.
This study found that when you work extra long weeks, your productivity may at first spike, but over time you’ll take a serious nose dive as you get more burnt out, stressed, and fatigued. Another even more interesting point the study found: People are not typically more productive when working extra long weeks, they just feel that they are.
This is even more reason to be extremely vigilant about how you're spending your time when you've sat down to focus on work.
Whether it's answering unimportant emails, micromanaging employees you hired because they’re experts at what they do, or chasing deals that don’t truly benefit your business, 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 summed this up very well, way back during the 17th century, "Time is what we want most, but what we use worst."
The most essential belief in my "Just Say No" Time Management System, is the belief that every business owner should only be doing what they do best, and that they should very actively outsource the rest.
Here are the questions I ask myself in order to evaluate every single request that comes my way. Bear in mind, this happens many times per day.
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, 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.
Each week, I spend a few hours responding to the emails I get from my blog readers, most commonly on topics related to how they can go about starting their own businesses while they keep their day jobs, something I've done several times and written about extensively.
In doing this, 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, and then it simply becomes a matter of prioritization.
Now, here's an example of a seemingly promising opportunity I recently turned down because it didn't appear to have foreseeable benefits for my business goals right now.
I was recently approached by the owner of a popular entrepreneurship blog in the U.S. and asked to share my experiences in a blog post 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.
Even though I love writing about and speaking 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 pursuing 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.
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. If you can quickly determined that there are no foreseeable benefits, kindly turn down the offer unless you’re doing it purely as a pro bono exercise.
2. Is this something I can (and want to) do?
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 it down and if possible, offer an alternative solution. Being honest with yourself is imperative to staying on track with your business.
I’m a freelance content marketing consultant, and because I built my personal 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. There are clear financial benefits to saying yes, but building WordPress websites is not what I am best at. It's not the skill I want to continue improving most, and it's not what I'm making myself known for.
I actively choose to decline these kinds of opportunities because I'm fully focused on my current priorities. A distraction like this doesn't benefit my current business goals of launching courses, growing my audience, and helping other entrepreneurs.
When well-aligned opportunities come your way, you need to be poised to recognize those quickly and take action.
There will without a doubt be more opportunities that come your way while 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 changing the focus of your business. I very rarely entertain these ideas when they require a significant investment of time or financial resources.
There's almost no dollar amount that would sway me from pursuing my business goals because of the immense benefits 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.
Once 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?
True opportunity 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 well-known brand reaches out looking for content marketing help, I'll often redirect what I'm working on to accommodate for addressing this right away. Aside from the obvious financial benefits, this opportunity is perfectly aligned with my strengths and business goals.
On the other hand, if an 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 upon the urgency, deadline, or timing as it relates to my priorities.
When I get a question from a reader of my blog, I push that request to the weekend. I’ve already set aside time on Saturday mornings to personally write back to each of them, 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.
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.
Once you understand the importance of freeing up your time to focus on what you’re best at, it’s important to recognize when you need outside help. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everything I do without actively outsourcing labor where it could be done quicker or more affordably by someone else.
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.
Ryan Robinson is a content marketing consultant, entrepreneur, and writer. Join him on ryrob.com and learn his strategies on growing your business with compelling content. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.