Sh*t That Works, Part 3: Focus & Attention

June 6, 2023 By Eric Olson

We wanted to create Consensus to make getting good information easy. There is so much information in the world, yet so little of it is based on real evidence.

For many subjects and debates, the evidence exists, its just hard to find, and even harder to consume.

This series will take a variety of important topics and discuss we actually can conclude based on real, research-backed evidence. We’re calling it: “Sh*t That Works”.

Of course, this will all be done with the help of Consensus.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained a medical professional. I just read lots of studies for my job

Interventions for Focus That Aren’t Bulls–t 

Interventions with “rock-solid” evidence:
Almost certainly helpful…

Interventions with “emerging” evidence:
Probably helpful in the right context...

Interventions that have “meh” evidence:
Some studies find benefits, others not so much...

Our ability to focus plays an enormous role in the quality of so many important things in our lives: work, physical and mental health, relationships etc…

Everyone needs to focus, and everyone wishes they could focus more.

Unfortunately, everyday there is a new “productivity hack” that usually amounts to nothing more than click-bait-y content focused on interventions that lack any real evidence of efficacy.

Let’s dive into the three interventions that actually have been shown to help improve focus.

Meditation study to care about #1: 2021 Meta Analysis

TLDR; this meta-analysis looked across 49 studies and found that meditation improves most attentional processes.

Meditation study to care about #2: 2012 Randomized Controlled Trial

TLDR; this RCT found that mindfulness meditation makes you more efficient at allocating cognitive resources and thereby improves the self-regulation of attention. 

Meditation takeaway:

After writing many similar blogs to this, there is probably no single intervention that I have gained more respect for than meditation. Time and time again, for a variety of outcomes, meditation has real, high-quality evidence backing up its efficacy. Focus and attention is no exception. 

Caffeine study to care about #1: 2012 Systematic Review

TLDR; this highly-cited systematic review of randomized controlled trials found that caffeine has “clear benefits” for attention, even more than is widely-believed.

Caffeine study to care about #2: 2021 Meta Analysis

TLDR; this meta analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials found a whole host of benefits from caffeine including increased cognitive performance and attention.

Caffeine takeaway

Caffeine really is a hell of a little drug – it is consistently found in the research to improve cognitive function, notably for both focus and attention. 

Exercise study to care about #1: 2010 Meta Analysis

TLDR; this meta-analysis looked across 29 studies and concluded that exercise has modest positive effects on attention and processing speed, executive function, and memory. 

Exercise study to care about #2: 2019 Study on patients with ADHD

TLDR; this study found that acute bouts of exercise can help improve attention and processing speed in patients with ADHD

Exercise takeaway

If the effects of exercise could be put into a pill, it would be the most effective supplement in the history of supplements across multiple outcomes. Focus is yet another on the long list of outcomes that exercise can improve!

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