Most people have heard how great meditation can be for relaxing and calming your mind, but did you know that meditation can actually increase your productivity? That’s right, taking even just a few minutes a day to sit in meditation can reduce stress and increase focus.
The key, though, is that you aren’t “just” sitting. As Dr. Claudia Aguirre explained, meditation is very similar to going to the gym and doing specific exercises to work certain muscles. To train your brain to focus, your meditation practice should also have a focus, whether that’s your breath, a mantra, the present moment, or something else. Sometimes a meditation session can be a constant struggle of losing your focus, then bringing your attention back, then losing it again, and bringing it back again. It can feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything, but you are. You’re getting used to shifting your attention back to what you are working on when you start to lose it. But meditation doesn’t just impact your productivity by improving your focus. A 2012 study looked into the short-term and long-term effects of meditation on stress, cognitive functions, and intelligence. The research team induced stress using a computer game and then found that meditation improved reaction times, as well as increased the participant’s IQ scores and cognitive functions while decreasing their stress levels. When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline, which causes your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. When you are under stress for a long period of time, it starts to take a toll on your body and mind and has some serious side effects: insomnia, headaches, stomachaches, and heartburn. When you aren’t sleeping and aren’t feeling well, it’s no secret that there is a negative impact on your productivity, whether you work at home or in an office.
Taking the time to breathe deeply and focusing on your breath instead of focusing on what is stressing you out, can help you relax, decreasing that fight-or-flight response that your body is stuck in. When you can get out of that, you are able to be more fully present with the task at hand and it might even make you healthier overall. In fact, a 2012 study by the American Heart Association showed that “African-Americans with heart disease who practiced Transcendental Meditation regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die compared with African-Americans who attended a health education class over more than five years”. And that dreaded procrastination? Meditation can help with that, too. Turns out there are several psychological reasons why we procrastinate, the short list including fear, anxiety, worry, living up to perceived expectations, or associating negative emotions to the task itself (ahem, like that report for work). Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl argues that procrastination is a failure to self-regulate, which can be helped by emotional regulation, something that relies on mindfulness. When we are able to slow down our thoughts and be more mindful of our thoughts and actions, we empower ourselves to make better choices. In addition to that, a 2014 study suggests that meditation can also ease anxiety, which has been reported to have a significant impact on both the workplace performance and the quality of work of employees. So what’s the takeaway? The next time you find yourself in a multi-tasking frenzy (even though we know multitasking doesn’t actually work), take a few minutes to meditate. The same qualities that make you more productive can also help unlock your creativity and insight, allowing you to see projects from a new perspective and then bring them to life. It turns out that by slowing down, you may actually become more productive.