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I've been body doubling for years. But I never knew that I was doing it, or that there was even a name for the strategy, which refers to the practice of working alongside someone — either online or IRL — to help you accomplish tasks that you've been avoiding.
I don't remember exactly when I realised that having another person in the room helped me focus on my own to-do list. And I never knew why the strategy worked — but I knew it did. For example, when I needed to finally, really book flights and hostels for a fast-approaching trip I was taking to Ireland in 2015, I brought my laptop to my travel buddy's apartment and we hunkered down together to get the job done. Many times throughout the week, when I hit a motivation slump, I'll desert the makeshift office I have set up in my room to sit in the living room with my roommate. Turns out, these are both examples of body doubling.
I'm most likely not the only one who's been body doubling without even realising it was a tried-and-tested productivity strategy. But recently, the practice, and the term, has become super popular on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, with people claiming that it's exceptionally useful for people who are neurodivergent or have learning disabilities that affect their attention — although anyone can use it to get more done, neurotypical people included.
As someone who's been recently diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and someone who has been body doubling to great success for years, I was willing to believe the social media claims of body doubling's benefits. But, of course, social media isn't always the best source of information for topics like learning disabilities, neurodiversity, and mental health — so I fact-checked what I was seeing online with an expert, Sarah O'Neill, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at The City College of New York in Manhattan.
Does Having a Body Double Really Work?
Despite no official scientific research existing that proves body doubling's usefulness, Dr. O'Neill says that there's anecdotal evidence that the strategy is effective. "People with ADHD talk about body doubling providing structure, improving motivation, making time seem like it's passing more quickly, and making them accountable to someone," she tells POPSUGAR.
"I do think that there is loads of anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of body doubling," agrees Katie Davis, PhD, a licenced psychologist with a practice on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "I don't need somebody else to tell me that it works; I live it. I know that it works." While of course there are people for whom body doubling doesn't work, the strategy has been used and recommended for decades in the ADHD community for good reason.
Body doubling likely provides similar benefits to people without ADHD who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, Dr. O'Neill adds. "Anytime we have a lot on our plate, we're using up more of our limited cognitive resources, and we have less capacity to regulate behaviour. For any person in this situation, where cognitive resources are taxed, I imagine that body doubling may be helpful."
Dr. O'Neill also has a theory about why the term body doubling became so popular online around 2021, and continues to be talked about today: the sudden shift to virtual learning and work environments that happened amid the pandemic, then stuck around. "Folks reported that concentrating was more difficult. It was harder to follow what was happening in class or in meetings, it was easier to get distracted, and supports that a person may have had in their work or learning environment were no longer present at all or were greatly reduced," she says. People were eagerly looking for tools to aid with focus and procrastination.
Body doubling's popularity also comes at a time when nearly 7 percent of adults have an adult ADHD diagnosis, according to the Journal of Global Health. Getting an official diagnosis often encourages people to seek out symptom management strategies, which could help account for increased awareness of the tool.
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How To Body Double, According to People Who Do It
There's no one set way to body double; different people find different techniques that work for them. For instance, Johanna Aúgusta, a 60-year-old therapist, astrologer, and numerologist from Canada, was first diagnosed with ADHD at age 8 and began body doubling with her mother, a physician, soon after.
"She would encourage me to talk through my feelings, reflect on my experiences and actions, and think about potential solutions to my difficult situations," Aúgusta says. "She didn't hesitate to offer guidance, advice, and encouragement whenever I felt stuck or overwhelmed."
Aúgusta body doubled with her mother from age 8 to 25, and then began again with her own daughter, who's neurotypical, at age 50. They body double during the work week, and they've found a routine that Aúgusta says is slightly different from the one she used with her own mother, but that both she and her daughter find "incredibly helpful."
"We have the same daily routine: starting with a check-in where we discuss what we need to focus on that day, then she helps break down the tasks into manageable chunks and provides support and guidance as needed. It feels more like a team effort, and it [allows] me to stay on track and progress with my goals," Aúgusta says.
"The structure, guidance, and accountability [body doubling] provides are invaluable when tackling tasks that can otherwise seem daunting or overwhelming," she says.
Hester Granger, a 45-year-old neurodiversity consultant from Reading, England and the co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, says that, like me, she and her family were benefiting from body doubling before they knew what the proper term was. Granger was diagnosed with ADHD at 43, her husband was diagnosed with autism and ADHD in 2019 and 2021, and their two teenagers were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD in 2019 and 2020.
"We've found that body doubling works really well with [the kids]. It's about helping them complete tasks," Granger tells POPSUGAR. "With our son, for example, I will brush my teeth with him, so it encourages him to do it at the same time. With my daughter I often sit on her bed, whilst she tidies her room, but just me being there helps her to focus and get the job done."
But it works for her and her husband, too. They go through emails and write to-do lists in the same room so more gets done. The couple "keep each other accountable" with frequent check-ins that keep them on task.
Although I'm a pretty regular body doubler myself, after learning more about what it is and how different people approach it, I decided to try body doubling more intentionally with my boyfriend earlier this month. When we — two neurodivergent adults in their 30s — lamented to each other about the process of brushing up on our resumes, we made a date to meet at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Manhattan and walk through the editing and updating process together.
It ended up being the most work either of us had done on these tasks we'd been putting off. We spent two hours side by side, writing and typing respectively, and turned to each other every now and then to check on each other's progress in hushed voices.
How Are People with ADHD Body Doubling Online?
As Dr. O'Neill pointed out, interest in body doubling spiked shortly after the pandemic began, when working from home turned from novelty into ongoing reality, and people's focus started to suffer. But the practice was difficult during the worst days of the pandemic, when safety concerns made it difficult to be with people IRL. That spawned a trend of virtual body doubling that persists today.
It works like this: people who want to be more productive but don't have an in-person accountability buddy use the livestream features on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram, either going Live themselves and inviting anyone to join, or finding an on-going livestream that was created for this purpose. Body doublers in search of an audience often hold up a sign or write in the comments to invite people to "study with me."
People have also turned to apps like Flown and digital support groups like Focusmate, Flow Club and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association Virtual Peer Support Group as a way for anyone, including those with ADHD, to successfully body double online.
"Any form of body doubling, a lot of the time, is better than no body doubling," Dr. Davis says. But while digital body doubling has its benefits, practicing with someone who you know well and can be on the same wavelength with you about how to execute body doubling best can be most effective — so if body doubling online isn't effective for you but you can't do it IRL, consider FaceTiming a friend for a body double session and seeing how that goes.
Although body doubling is far from proven, it comes with little risk and has the potential to deliver a big reward. After my latest body doubling session (which I still can't help but think of as having an accountability partner), I came away with one clichéd-but-true thought present in my mind: teamwork really does make the dream work.