If you want to improve your focus and performance, then boffins at the University of Pennsylvania recommend that you meditate daily, even if it happens to be in short doses.
The researchers conducted the first ever study of its kind to examine how meditation may modify the three sub-components of attention, including the ability to prioritise and manage tasks and goals, the ability to voluntarily focus on specific information and the ability to stay alert to the environment.
Their study showed that meditation does so as it is an active and effortful process that literally changes the way the brain works.
As a part of the study, the researchers split subjects into two categories - those new to meditation, or "mindfulness training," took part in an eight-week course that included up to 30 minutes of daily meditation, and those more experienced with meditation that attended an intensive full-time, one-month retreat.
Participants performed tasks at a computer that measured response speeds and accuracy. At the outset, retreat participants who were experienced in meditation demonstrated better executive functioning skills, the cognitive ability to voluntarily focus, manage tasks and prioritise goals.
Upon completion of the eight-week training, participants new to meditation had greater improvement in their ability to quickly and accurately move and focus attention, a process known as "orienting." After the one-month intensive retreat, participants also improved their ability to keep attention "at the ready."
The researchers found that even for those new to the practice, meditation enhanced performance and the ability to focus attention.
The results suggest that meditation, even as little as 30 minutes daily, may improve attention and focus for those with heavy demands on their time.
While practicing meditation may itself may not be relaxing or restful, the attention-performance improvements that come with practice may paradoxically allow us to be more relaxed.
The study is to be published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.