How to Achieve Focus and Concentration at Work Through Meditation

A cup of tea on a book next to a person's legs

Companies invest millions of dollars to hack their employees’ productivity.

After all, efficient workers are the drivers of a profitable bottom line. That’s why leaders invest in wellness programs, from free gym memberships to access to mindfulness practices to make employees happy and less stressed.

The world’s greatest minds have studied the effect of work meditation on the brain in great detail. Learn its impacts and the various ways you can leverage them to make you more efficient.

What science says about work meditation

Your surroundings contain elements that stimulate your senses of smell, hearing, taste, sight and touch. Overexposure to these can contribute to physical and mental exhaustion, diminishing your ability to focus, make good decisions and be productive. 

Meditation provides freedom from all the continuous noise and distractions of the outer world. The mind is like a wild animal that's constantly on the move. Sitting and focusing on your breath or any single point can force it to stillness. With practice, you get better at directing your mental energy on only essential things and blocking distractions.

The effect of mindfulness activities on the brain is well-studied. Here are what experts say about the power of meditation. 

1. It reboots working memory

A computer with multiple open tabs, performing various activities in the background eventually buffers. Technicians recommend rebooting to refresh the central processing unit or CPU, which is the memory of the device and restore it to its normal function.

The brain is similar in this regard. Meditation is to the nervous system what reboot is to a computer. Clearing out the backlog of thoughts in the working memory can improve the mind’s efficiency and speed. 

Researchers conducted a study to determine the effect of focused attention meditation on the working memory of novice practitioners. Thirteen people were assigned to the mediation group while 17 were put to the control group. The findings revealed that those who meditated increased their working memory capacity by improving their top-down attention control, which is the brain’s ability to direct and sustain focus on chosen points.

The reason you feel mentally tidier and refreshed after meditation is that you’ve gotten rid of mental disturbances.

2. It helps achieve mental clarity

If you can't think straight, one plausible reason is a stressed, agitated and overloaded mind. All these can affect how efficient your brain is when making decisions and doing tasks. Like your smartphone, the brain has limited memory storage of around 2.5 petabytes or 2.5 million gigabytes.

While that may seem like a lot, this memory capacity can easily run out given all the irrelevant data your five senses consciously and unconsciously collect from your surroundings. Stress, anxiety, worry and rumination are some of the physical symptoms that manifest if your brain nears its storage limit, often leading to overwhelm, depression and burnout. 

Meditation can lower depression and anxiety levels by easing worry and rumination, freeing up some mental space. It's like clearing the cache of your browser history to gain mental clarity. A calm, stress-free mind enables you to plan better and execute tasks to skyrocket your productivity.

3. It optimizes the HPA axis

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis consists of two systems — the central nervous system and the endocrine. Both work together to adjust your stress response by regulating the level of hormones within the body.  

Naturally, the body responds to pressure by producing cortisol or stress hormones. Various brain mechanisms, hormones and the immune system are activated so you can cope with it. This process is called  "allostasis" or "stability through change."

Consistent high cortisol levels can negatively affect the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and hypothalamus and by extension, your learning and thinking abilities. 

However, researchers have found that meditation — along with yoga — can reverse the effects of stress by reducing cortisol levels, increasing blood flow to the nervous system and even promoting the growth of new brain cells through neural plasticity. 

Combining meditation with yoga, another mindfulness-based activity, can optimize the functions of the central nervous and endocrine systems, mitigating the downsides of stress in the brain. 

4. It boosts emotional processing

Emotional intelligence can affect productivity since stress and anxiety are negative feelings that influence how your brain functions. 

One of the facets of emotional intelligence is emotional regulation, an essential skill in the workplace that allows you to foster healthy collaboration with others. If you can’t control stress, anxiety, worry or anger when someone commits a mistake in their job, the consequences spill onto you in the form of reduced efficiency. Fortunately, meditation can remedy this.

A review of 10 studies involving health care professionals found that mindfulness is positively linked with one's ability to control their emotions while negatively associated with emotional exhaustion. Meditation training helped promote balance, awareness, acceptance, recognition and expressive suppression or the ability to hide or control facial expressions that match their true feelings. 

Meditation can enhance various aspects of emotional intelligence, which helps you respond to workplace problems less reactively yet more thoughtfully. 

How to increase concentration with meditation

With all these impressive upsides of work meditation, how can you achieve heightened focus by sitting with your thoughts? Here are some tips. 

1. Begin your day with a morning practice

Morning meditation helps set the stage for the day and the best place to practice is from your home. It's familiar and comfortable — knowing you're in a safe and secure space helps the brain tone down the fight and flight mode, promoting a relaxed state.

There's no standard for how long to meditate as soon as you wake up — even 30 seconds of deliberate mindfulness can have a benefit.

2. Before starting new tasks, meditate for a few minutes

There are several forms of meditation you can do in front of your desk. You can try mindful or relaxation breathing, body scan and the five senses drill. 

Mindful breathing involves paying attention to each inhale and exhale to tame the wandering brain. On the other hand, relaxation breathing involves slow, rhythmic breaths to shut down your fight-or-flight mode. With each breath, you relax the muscles.

A body scan is when you search your body for any unique sensations, like pain and tension, from crown to toe. This type of meditation helps boost sleep, which is an essential recipe for productivity. 

The five senses drill engages your nose, eyes, ears, tongue and skin to stay present. In this practice, you must notice the following to calm your mind.

  • Five things you see
  • Four things you feel 
  • Three things you hear
  • Two things you smell
  • One thing you taste

Do any meditation before doing any task. If you're a practitioner, you probably have a go-to technique. The most important thing is to let yourself melt into the present. Focus on the breath, sensations or sounds. 

3. Add micro-meditation sessions throughout your workday

Micro-meditations are one to two minutes of mindful breathing to refresh your mind. While it can't replace your formal meditation practice, this practice can help sustain and optimize your concentration to tackle every task you need to accomplish. 

Do this throughout your workday or along with your microbreaks. Others set a timer for two hours to get reminders of their micro hits of mindfulness.

4. Incorporate other mindful activities

You can also deepen your practice by infusing awareness into your workplace activities, such as mindful eating, conversations or music. Don't rush every bite when you eat lunch. Instead, savor the complex taste of the meal, notice how it looks, its colors, its textures and how the body feels after you chew and swallow the food. 

Be fully aware of the sensations. The practice resets your brain and preserves your remaining focus and energy for the second half of the day. 

5. Do walking meditation

Step out of your office and bring awareness to your knees, hips, calves and feet. Doing this after a meal supports digestion and rejuvenates your brain. Like mindful eating, notice the different sensations in your lower body in each stride. Forget about your pending tasks. Instead, pay attention to how each muscle feels when you move. Synchronize each step with your breathing and the mind eventually transitions from restlessness to stillness. 

6. Use a meditation app

If you're a novice, downloading free software on your phone is the best tool to learn mindfulness. Many apps offer brief guided work meditations you can do during breaks in between each task. 

Find a beginner-friendly session, put on your headphones and follow the instructions. Some may make you listen to a mantra, the sound of a singing bowl or say affirmations. All of these can help reset your nervous system. 

Incorporate work meditation to hack your productivity

You have everything to gain by adding meditation to improve your work performance. It helps you achieve more, gives you mental clarity so you can make unbiased decisions, boosts your emotional intelligence and enhances your working memory. 

Remember to do several quick mental reboots throughout the day. When you're overwhelmed with a task and feel stressed, just pause, close your eyes, breathe in deeply and start a micro-meditation.


Today's post is a guest post from Beth Rush. 

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor at Body+Mind. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on various topics related to mental health, self-improvement, and holistic health. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking and trying out new fitness trends. Connect with her on Twitter @bodymindmag.

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