3 Tips to Avoid Distractions at Work to Prevent Executive Burnout

We’ve all heard the adage warning against all work and no play. Yet, while the majority of us recognize that working around the clock is brutal, the habit persists amongst executives and entrepreneurs on a broad scale. 

There’s an ingrained mythology around startups that not only celebrates burn-out efforts, but damn well requires it. It’s the logical outcome of trying to compress a lifetime’s worth of work into the abbreviated timeline of a venture fund.

David Hanson, Creator of Ruby on Rails/Founder and CTO at Basecamp

Nearly every hard working professional knows that living almost exclusively with your nose to the grindstone will cause epic burnout. Yet the typical C-suite executive position is almost perfectly designed to burn someone out. A Harvard Medical School study found that 96% of senior leaders feel somewhat burned out, and a third describe their burnout as extreme.

I don’t know if we’re going to make it. And there are a lot of others around here who have the same feeling. We’re all demoralized.

Anonymous Executive via Harvard Business Review article

Read on to discover three simple yet powerful ways to avoid distractions at work in order to alleviate and/or rid yourself of executive burnout

Everyone talks about taking breaks. In fact, research suggests that we should all take a break every ninety minutes.

But while breaks are an invaluable step in the daily process of maintaining your physical energy and mental clarity, breaks don’t get to the core of why burnouts happen.

Most often, burnouts happen after a considerable amount of constant distractions have piled up and continuously derailed you from your ever-growing workload.

It takes on average
23 minutes and 15 seconds
for one’s focus to return
after a distraction.

Below, I’ll discuss how to avoid distractions at work in order to prevent or ease the crushing burden of burnout. 

1 Create a task list

Whereas distractions come out of left field and pull your focus away from the task at hand, usually without your consent, tasks are typically self-imposed and usually have a time limit associated with them. Most importantly, they are planned in advance.

study done by UC Irvine and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany shows that while tasks that get interrupted usually get done on time, they only get accomplished because we “compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort.” The study further shows that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds for one’s focus to return after a distraction.

Many distractions that occur in the workplace come from colleagues—repeatedly asking advice, sending emails that demand immediate attention, or having noisy discussions or phone calls in your vicinity (to name just a few). Distractions also come from vendors, partners, industry allies, friends, and family as well. A main concern with constant interruptions is that many executives find themselves forgetting what they were doing previously. This is of special concern if your task involves intense concentration.

One way to avoid this is to create a task management list for yourself that includes two to three big things you want to have completed by the end of the day or week (i.e. empty your inbox). Then, expanding on this list, write down each step to take toward the completion of this task. As you finish, pysically remove that task off your list. This removal serves not only as a reminder of what you were doing when you refocus from distractions (or return from breaks) but it also serves as a motivational method.

2 Delegate to others

Have you fallen into the trap of similarly ambitious executives and entrepreneurs who believe that they, and they alone, hold the keys to getting everything done well and on time? Most likely, your thought process swings back-and-forth between “If I work hard enough and fast enough, I can get it all done,” and “No one can get it done better or faster than I can.”

Typically, you find yourself at a stalemate with yourself and your business’s forward progress. And somewhere in the back of your mind is a voice telling you that ending the stalemate is not only crucial to the growth and success of your business, but essential for your health and the health of your business.

While this habit may not seem like a distraction, it is. The fact that it’s essentially always part of you and your workflow means that you are being distracted from your own productivity and forward progress on a continuous basis.  

The best way to combat this “I got it!” tendency is to make delegation adjustments. If you are having a difficult time accomplishing a task because you are being pulled in several directions, it’s important to determine if you are the only one who can complete the task or if someone else can do it. If someone else can do it, by all means let them do it!

Likewise, if you realize that a team member is struggling to complete a specific task, perhaps that task is not in their wheelhouse. Reevaluate your team members on a regular basis to pinpoint their strengths and assign jobs to the right person, since you always want to make sure your team is functioning at peak performance. 

3 Hire a virtual assistant

Another way to combat burnout is to hire a virtual assistant. A virtual administrative assistant can assist you in a variety of ways that take admin distractions off your plate entirely, including:

Prospect Development and Lead Generation
    • Identify potential prospects, research their contact information, and give you the context to reach out to them
    • Conduct initial and/or ongoing research 
    • Setup a system or database to store all research
Nurture and Grow Your Client Base
    • Monitor relationships and referrals by ensuring regular touch points through investment updates and other communications
    • Follow up with customers and clients
    • Send thank you emails and other reminders
    • Liaison between you and your team members
    • Email management and filtering
    • Reply to customers and client’s enquiries via email
    • Answer inbound calls on your behalf
    • Make outbound calls on your behalf
    • Answer support tickets
Document Preparation and Management 
    • Ensure proposals, key investment documentation, and other reports are ready when you need them
    • Create basic reports (monthly, weekly, daily, or annually)
    • Create charts for board meetings
CRM Management
    • Manage and schedule appointments or bookings
    • Basic data entry
    • Update contact lists 
Calendar Management 
    • Manage and schedule appointments or bookings
    • Schedule and re-schedule your meetings
    • Confirm appointments
Travel Management 
    • Book flight, hotel, car, etc
    • Arrange meetings with customers or clients in-between stops
    • Apply all necessary rewards and miles programs

If you don’t know how to find a virtual administrative assistant, here’s a resource you’ll enjoy: How to Find the Right Virtual Assistant for Your Needs (includes infographic).

If you can’t decide if you should pay by the hour or pay a flat fee when you hire a virtual assistant, check out this article: I Hate Paying By the Hour and Why You Should Pay Virtual Assistants a Flat Fee (written by our CEO).

Do you worry it’ll be too difficult to hire a virtual assistant, or are you concerned that it’ll be a serious challenge to manage your virtual administrative assistant once that person is hired? If either of these aspects of the process worry you, you’ll benefit from the following article: The Best Leaders Delegate to an Assistant by Avoiding These 3 Pitfalls


While breaks are healthy and recommended, it is always best to avoid and head off distractions in order to reduce or stave off burnout. Whether it is changing your work environment to better prepare those around you to do their job without your assistance or leveraging a virtual administrative assistant to create a system to better manage your inbox, cutting out distractions in three very simple ways is your best option for reducing or eliminating executive burnout. 

Additional articles

9 (Lesser-Known) Best Productivity Apps for Executives

9 Task Management Tools and Hacks to Boost Your Business Productivity