The ability to multitask is touted as a virtue in the business world, but it is difficult to perform well. However, new research suggests that multitasking can be done successfully with a little help from some quiet meditation.
University of Washington professors David Levy and Jacob Wobbrock compared workers who received meditation training to those that received no relaxation techniques at all. Individuals who were trained in meditation reported being better able to multitask throughout the workday without getting stressed.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore how meditation might affect multitasking in a realistic work setting,” Levy says in a statement. “We are encouraged by these first results. While there is increasing scientific evidence that certain forms of meditation increase concentration and reduce emotional volatility and stress, until now there has been little direct evidence that meditation may impart such benefits for those in stressful, information-intensive environments.”
The research is published in the Proceedings of Graphics Interface [PDF].
Levy and Wobbrock recruited three groups of human resource managers that work in information. The first group received eight weeks of meditation training alongside work, the second received eight weeks of body relaxation training and the third received nothing. At the beginning and end of each eight week period, participants took a stress test related to their multitasking abilities. Researchers measured the speed and accuracy with which participants switched between various office tasks including filing, sending emails, scheduling appointments and answering phones. Participants also self-reported their level of stress and memory while performing these tasks.
“The results were significant: The meditation group reported lower levels of stress during the multitasking test while those in the control group or who received only relaxation training did not. When the control group was given meditation training, however, its members reported lower stress during the test just as had the original meditation group.
“The meditation training seemed to help participants concentrate longer without their attention being diverted. Those who meditated beforehand spent more time on tasks and switched tasks less often, but took no longer to complete the overall job than the others, the researchers learned.
“No such change occurred with those who took body relaxation training only, or with the control group. After the control group’s members underwent meditation training, however, they too spent longer on their tasks with less task switching and no overall increase in job completion time.
“After training, both the meditators and those trained in relaxation techniques showed improved memory for the tasks they were performing. The control group did not, until it too underwent the meditation training.
Over the past decade more and more companies are turning to meditation as a way to bring a sense of peace to the workplace while increasing productivity. Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine says that companies are “being won over, in part, by findings at the National Institutes of Health, the University of Massachusetts, and the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University that meditation enhances the qualities companies need most from their knowledge workers: increased brain-wave activity, enhanced intuition, better concentration, and the alleviation of the kinds of aches and pains that plague employees most.”
Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program started in 2007 and is now being used as a template for other technology companies to follow. General Mills, Google and Apple also offer forms of meditation and relaxation in the workplace.
“Many research efforts at the human-technology boundary have attempted to create technologies that augment human abilities,” Wobbrock says. “This meditation work is unusual in that it attempts to augment human abilities not through technology but because of technology—because of the demands technology places on us and our need to cope with those demands.”
So perhaps we can expect to see yoga mats and relaxation tapes in the break room from now on.
Do you think this trend is going to keep growing? And if so, is this a good thing for the workplace?
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