You know this process will never be easy, not anytime soon, anyway. 

Maintaining focus and keeping your energy up are universal challenges for CEOs and those in every leadership role. Actually, it’s part of everyday life for anyone with multiple priorities. But hope springs eternal. I’m an optimist, and I always believe things will work out in the end. 

While there is no universal set of solutions for maintaining focus and avoiding burnout, I can at least point you in a few of the right directions. Arguably, the first goal should be resisting the urge to take off like a rocket when starting your day or digging into a task. After a reasonable takeoff, pacing is the next goal. I suggest thinking in terms of what’s healthy and realistic for you, your mind, and your body, and since those things can vary by the minute. Trying to adjust your intensity as things change feels to me like a good approach. 

Two Lists: One for Maintaining Focus and One for Avoiding Burnout  

It’s one thing to stay on task; not exhausting yourself in the process is a whole other issue. It might help to imagine two lists, one for keeping yourself focused and one for avoiding burnout. While the things on these lists might sometimes overlap, the goal of staying focused and the goal of avoiding burnout are, for the most part, separate. 

Consider the following for maintaining focus:  

  • find a challenge in the task to get excited about, like opportunities to learn a new skill or a goal to complete the task within a self-determined amount of time 
  • remember who you’re doing it for and why
  • use visualization techniques to help you achieve a goal, maybe picturing a standing ovation after a speech or an enthusiastic response to an initiative you’ve proposed 

Finding a positive challenge in what otherwise feels like an unwelcome chore might even inspire you to plow through spreadsheets with laser-like focus. It reminds me of playing football as a kid, when increasing my speed might have been the goal. For you, tracking your progress and checking your time, while still doing your best work, might make the work challenging – but in the right way. 

Remembering who you’re doing it for helps a lot of people stay focused. You might feel motivated by the teammates and others who have a stake in the outcome; or maybe it will be your family. Considering the why, or the objective, helps maintain focus by keeping your eye on the ball and not on irrelevant details. 

Then there’s visualization, a technique often associated with athletes. Visualization involves mentally achieving your goal, picturing the specific actions it will entail, and then visualizing the result. 

As to avoiding burnout, that process might be helped along by slipping into more comfortable clothes when you get home, turning off your phone, or meeting up with people after work.  

I like to think I’ve laid out a clear path for achieving focus and avoiding burnout, but if you’re not convinced, consider this Forbes review of Greg McKeown’s book, Effortless, an exploration of “accomplishing more by trying less.” Key takeaways from Effortless include:

  • flipping the question on its head from, “Why is this so hard?” to “What if this could be easy?”
  • predetermining what constitutes “done” and making a hard stop once you get there
  • starting by breaking down the most obvious step into minuscule steps, and kicking off the project with 10 minutes of concentrated work to energize yourself, knowing that you might be able to skip a step here or there and still achieve a great outcome
  • taking plenty of time for rest

Experiment Until You Find Your Groove

Again, when it comes to maintaining focus and preventing burnout, what works for some might not work for others. Often, the challenge of remaining focused and energized is heightened by other factors, like having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a diagnosis I received in college, along with dyslexia. It’s something I like talking about because I’m living proof that you can overcome challenges, become successful, and fall in love with what you do for a living. 

Look for what works for you, not what seems to work for everybody else. It’s likely there are workarounds for the things you’re running up against, workarounds you won’t find if you throw in the towel too soon. 

And this next one goes for everyone: delegating where it’s appropriate and asking for help if you need it, are vital. 

Other Possibilities for Avoiding Burnout 

  • meditation, prayer, or journaling
  • watching old sitcoms or movies you loved as a kid
  • rediscovering an old passion, like painting, cooking, or hiking
  • discovering a new passion like a side hustle just for the fun and the challenge 

Thinking about a healthy interest when your nose is to the grindstone, can not only be helpful, but downright meaningful, maybe even life changing. Remember, the internet and your local library are filled with the biographies of famous entrepreneurs who changed the landscape of business, healthcare, science, or the arts in just this way.

Being Intentional 

About two years ago, I wrote this post about achieving balance in our lives, and a key takeaway was to be intentional in our relationships with teammates, friends, and family. The idea extends to this notion of focus and burnout, because when I encounter a challenge by showing intention, including the intent to show up in the most authentic way, I perform better. Making that decision is like taking a breath before getting down to business and letting our hearts share the load with our heads. 

Whatever you try and whatever works for you, please take care of yourself. You’re the only “you” the world will ever have.