During the past couple months, I have had an unprecedented amount of time to work on personal projects. Alternatively, I have had an unusual amount of time for browsing the internet looking at funny videos of cats, running errands, cooking elaborate meals, etc. I strive for productivity in my personal and professional goals, yet I am human and still succumb to the bittersweet tastes of procrastination and distraction.
During the same period that my free time increased, I also enacted a New Year’s Resolution: to meditate for 5000 minutes this year–roughly 15 minutes a day. This pales in comparison to last year’s time on the cushion: around 12000 minutes. However, that involved extraordinary circumstances at an intensive retreat. Unfortunately, that will not be repeated this year. Thus, I am striving (and, thankfully, not always succeeding) in making meditation a daily habit.
Because the foundation of meditation is mindfulness, both of one’s thoughts and experiences, it seemed reasonable that this would be anathema to procrastination, distraction, and overall unfocused activity. If I keep my thoughts intentional, how could I waste time?
That logic was the basis for this experiment: identifying the effects (if any) of meditation on productivity.
Meditation promotes mindfulness. Procrastination and wasting time are dependent on distraction.
Meditation will increase my productivity.
For several months, I have been updating two spreadsheets: one tracking my daily mediation time (if any) and the other tracking my daily productivity. The meditation tracking simply logs how many minutes I spend each day meditating. The productivity tracker records four things throughout the day: when I sleep, when I meditate, when I am productive, and when I am not productive. The day is segmented into hour long bins with a binary rating of productive/non productive. If during that hour I am more productive than not productive, it is marked productive, and vice versa.
Productivity is tracked regardless of whether I meditated that morning. I will compare my productive time on days I meditate against days I do not.
My working definition of “productive” is engaged activity toward one of several, predefined goals I have. Any time spent outside of these goals, regardless of its urgency or necessity, was regarded as nonproductive (perhaps a more appropriate term than productive would be goal-oriented, yet I think both work).
Meditation is of Vipassana tradition and is always performed in the morning for at least 15 minutes
Instead of numbers, here’s a chart!
The chart displays the daily average time, in hours, of productivity (P) and unproductivity (~P) on days that I meditated (M; n = 18) and did not meditate (~M; n = 12). Using a two-tailed, unpaired t-test, meditation had a significant effect on increasing productivity (p < 0.05) and decreasing nonproductivity (p < 0.01). Data from 30 days was analyzed; some days were discarded due to lack of reliable productivity tracking.
Since I was already tracking sleep and running analyses, I also made a quick check to see if the duration of my sleep had any effect on my productivity for the day. On nights I slept either six, seven, or eight hours, there was no significant change in productivity or nonproductivity. On days I slept nine hours, however, productivity decreased while nonproductivity increased (p < 0.05).
Please note: the displayed numbers are averages, so they only approximately add up to 15 hours I spent not sleeping or meditating.
Simply, the data shows that my morning meditation is strongly associated with increased time spent productively and decreased time spent nonproductively, which doubly champions my hypothesis. Yippee!
There is, however, one confounding issue at the core of the experiment: the “randomness” of the days that I chose to meditate. In a good scientific study, all of my days would be more or less the same with randomly chosen days that I would meditate. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I meditated when I could and didn’t meditate when I didn’t feel like it, which likely was influenced by how busy I was that day. There is a reasonable chance that not meditating and nonproductivity were not independent of the other; that part of the reason I didn’t meditate was because I couldn’t spare a half hour in the morning because I was so busy. This is the reason that I analyzed productivity and nonproductivity; theoretically, they should mirror each other. The fact that the effect size on meditation differs on productivity and nonproductivity is evidence that there was something skewing the results.
To address that issue, I would need to randomly assign the days I meditated and days I didn’t meditate before I began the experiment. But that would be at odds with my goal of making meditation a daily habit, so I chose to let it go.
Despite this flaw, and several others, the results of this are strongly motivating for me to continue incorporating meditation into my daily morning routine. It provides some hard evidence to the anecdotal feeling of focus I have after meditation, which continues its effects throughout the day.