Entrepreneurs have to wear all the hats, and that means a lot of learning on the job and juggling priorities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by that, you’re not alone. It’s a rare person who starts a business with expertise in everything that needs to be done.

One solution to make things easier and get a handle on your tasks is to hire someone to pitch in. Sometimes that means a regular hands-on staff member, and other times, it’s a consultant to help you structure your business better. That’s the kind of work that business strategist Kim Cota of Beautiful Thinkers does.

“It’s part coaching, part strategy and part streamlining operations,” she says. “And it’s a lot of making sure that the human behind the business is included, because that’s often the piece that gets left behind.”

But what’s it like to hire a business strategist, and what are some common issues you might work on with them? We chatted with Kim to find out more.

Workshop: Can you tell us about your business?

Kim Cota: I'm the daughter of a lifelong entrepreneur, and through my whole life I watched my father disappear into his work. He's at retirement age now, but he doesn't know what he wants to do outside of being a small business owner and talking about small business. So I took all my corporate knowledge and have been working with him and other small business owners to help them focus on the things that are important, sort through the million ideas we all have to find the ones that are important, and then streamline that process to make it easier to get it done.

W: That's the thing, isn't it? People who become entrepreneurs tend to have a lot of ideas.

KC: Most entrepreneurs that I know have a laundry list of ideas. There's 50 things that they want to get done and every day a new idea gets added to the list. I think that's a beautiful thing. That constant idea-making ability is part of what makes us successful, but it can also be the thing that overwhelms us.

What I work with a lot is helping people either prioritize their ideas, or set aside the ones that aren't really in alignment with what they want to do.

W: What's the first step for someone who comes to you and says, “I need help. I'm keeping this going, but I'm working too much and I can't keep myself organized”?

KC: Where I start is: get it all out, whether it's free-writing or just having a conversation. What are all the things that are on your mind right now, taking up mental space and energy? Once that's out of your brain, I like to focus on your goal for right now. What is that thing that you're trying to achieve, or what is the most pressing thing in your work world?

Trying to plan longer than three months is really hard, especially when you're busy running a business. Things change every day. I aim for one to three priorities that you can actually focus on in three months. If you do more than that, you're going to end up overwhelmed or burned out.

That can be a quick way to filter out all the stuff that are great ideas, but maybe aren’t right-now ideas. You can sort through the things on your list that match up to what your priorities are.

W: What are some of the obstacles that come up for people when you're working through this process with them?

KC: A big one is feelings. For whatever reason, we try to separate business and feelings, and home responsibilities and work responsibilities. But that's not the way the world works. It all melds together. One big barrier is if there's not enough margin in your business to deal with being a human in the world.

One big barrier is if there's not enough margin in your business to deal with being a human in the world.

Another one is that there are a lot of voices saying what you should be doing. This is how you should do marketing. This is how you should set up all of your operations and systems. Use this tool, use that tool. There's a lot of shiny objects out there, and it can be distracting. I think that's another thing that gets in the way.

And then just the overwhelm of, “I've got all of these things I want to do. What's step one?” That can be a really hard place to get to.

W: Another thing that's hard is it's not so much picking your priorities as picking what you have to say no to.

KC: For sure. Even I have a hard time saying no; we all do. Personally when I'm working with people, I don't say, “You need to say no to that,” but “How about not right now?” There's only so much time in a day. There's stuff that has to come off the list.

W: One thing that comes up is procrastination. What are some tricks to figure out ways to work that out?

KC: I’m going to say that procrastination is a tool. Myself, I have ADHD, and a lot of female entrepreneurs have ADHD. That deadline is the thing that overrides the “I don't want to do it.” Procrastination is sometimes the tool that works for you. It can be anxiety inducing, and maybe it's not the most calm approach, but it is an approach.

What I do is I have themed days in my week. Mondays are bookkeeping, Tuesdays are content, Wednesdays are coaching, Thursdays are delivery work, etc. I know that that's the day, and it's short. Like, I don't have to keep doing this all week or all month. I only have to think about this on Tuesdays.

A tomato-shaped timer that goes up to 25 minutes
You don't need a tomato-shaped timer to use the Pomodoro Technique, but we liked this image anyways. Photo: Marco Verch.

I also use the Pomodoro Technique to do stuff that I don't want to do. Focusing on something for 25 minutes feels doable to me. A timer is amazing. Setting a timer and knowing that it's a short, temporary period of time that you have to do it, and it's in a small enough quantity that you can just put it in your calendar and get it over with — I find that works.

W: Are there any other tips that you offer people in terms of time management?

KC: Another place that I start when people are talking about time management is actually measuring how much time a task takes. You don't have to measure it indefinitely. I took the month of April, for example, and I used Toggl Track and timed everything I worked on. I was able to use that data to be like, okay, 20 percent of my time is going to this type of work, 30 percent is going to this type of work, 10 percent is going to this type of work. Is that how I want it? Am I spending 40 percent of my time creating content for Instagram, and is that really the best use of my time?

Starting with that information can be really powerful, because then you know where to go from there.

Kim sends out a monthly email with thoughts for that month: reflections on what’s happening in her small business world plus tips and tricks and links to recent blog posts. You can sign up on her website. She’s also offering a downloadable worksheet on prioritizing and time management for free to Workshop readers — you can get in touch with her to get a copy.