When someone says meditation, you probably don’t think of speed, agility, productivity. Meditation is a slow practice, away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. But when you return to the normal pace of your life, you might just find that meditation allows you to work even faster.
The most basic component of mindfulness meditation is bringing awareness to your breath, over and over again, training the mind to gently return to its original focus every time it wanders. It’s single-tasking in its purest form. For most of us, focusing on a single task is an uncomfortable feeling. We like to feel as if we’re getting a whole lot done at the same time. Unfortunately, our brains don’t do the best work that way. In fact, multitasking significantly decreases our productivity, across all the tasks we attempt to juggle. Meditation can help take us away from our compulsive distraction-seeking mode. Or better yet, it brings us right into the heart of it, so we can notice it and rein it in. Come back to breath. Come back to the present moment. Try not to focus on something else. So it's perhaps unsurprising to learn that mindfulness can increase your attention span and train you to stay on task. Research has found that meditation increases focus, decreasing our tendency to feed into distracting thoughts and stick to the task at hand, even when that task is not meditating.
In one study, students who completed a two-week mindfulness course showed improved memory and reading comprehension on the GRE, while also becoming more impervious to distracting thoughts during the test. Students who showed a proclivity toward distraction before the course were able to better find focus and boost performance. So if you need all your focus for a big project at work, meditation can help you hone that skill. The ability to sustain focus can allow you to move into a state of flow and become immersed in your work. So while meditation might not feel like it’s doing much in the moment, it is. It’s cultivating your ability to stay focused—a tool to increase your performance by getting you out of your head and into the moment. Whether we’re at work or at play, increasing focus can help us enjoy what we are doing, and help us do it better.