Would you like to become more focused, productive and less stressed at work?
Meditation may be the answer, say researchers at the University of Washington.
Lead study author David Levy, a computer scientist and professor, and his colleagues found that workers who had undergone meditation training were able to stay on task longer and were less distracted.
Meditation also improved test participants’ memory while easing their stress.
Levy, who has used meditation for many years in his own life, decided to conduct the study after reading Darlene Cohen’s book, The One Who Is Not Busy: Connecting to Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way.
“In the book she was talking about how she’s adapted some Zen training to the workplace,” he says. “For 20 years I’ve been looking about how to add balance to the workplace, and that gave me the idea for the experiment.”
For his study, he had one group of human resource managers undergo eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training. A second group got eight weeks of body-relaxation training. The third group received no initial training but then was given the same training as the first group after eight weeks.
Participants then took a stressful test on their multitasking abilities before and after each eight-week period. They had to use email, calendars, instant-messaging, phones and word-processing tools to perform common office duties.
Researchers analyzed their speed, accuracy and number of times they switched tasks. The subjects also were asked to record their stress levels and memory performance while doing the jobs.
The results showed that the meditation group not only had lower stress levels during the multitasking tests but were also able to concentrate longer without being distracted.
But for the other two groups — those who received relaxation breathing training and those who had no initial training — stress did not go down. However, after the third group received meditation training after eight weeks, their decreased as well.
Furthermore, those in the meditation group spent more time on tasks, didn’t switch between different chores as often and took no longer to get their work done than the other participants, the study found.
“Meditation is a lot like doing reps at a gym. It strengthens your attention muscle,” Levy says.
Levy says that he understands how it feels to be overwhelmed at work, saying he was “stunned” when he left a Palo Alto, Calif., think tank to take up academic duties.
“I kept thinking, ‘This is crazy,’” he says. “I do wonder why we make ourselves work this way. There’s no time to even think. We’ve gotten to a place where we’re just speeding up and we don’t do things well. We’ve got to slow down.”
Levy says further study is needed to prove whether meditation can benefit individuals over the long term, but in his own life, he says meditation has helped calm his stress. He thinks it is worth trying, especially for workers who feel overwhelmed, distracted and stressed.
The idea is catching on in many workplaces.
“There’s an awful lot going on in this area,” Levy says. “You see it in health care, in the schools and in the workplace. It’s really turning into a serious direction and finding a place in American lives.”
For those who have not had training in meditation or mindfulness, Levy says the first step can be an easy one.
“The simplest form of mindfulness meditation I know is to just to sit and pay attention to your breathing,” he says. “To feel the actual sensations of your breathing and when you mind inevitably goes away to something else, just bring your mind back. Bring it back to the sensation of the breath again and again.
“It really can make a difference in your life.”
Source: University of Washington