Sticking with a task to the end is a core challenge for many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Impulses and distractions can pull you off course. Anxiety, depression, and low motivation can prevent you from starting complex projects. All of this can result in problems at home, school, or work.
Body doubling may help you work around these difficulties. While there’s not much research on the method yet, some people with ADHD say having someone nearby while they’re working can help them focus until they reach the finish line.
Don’t forget the positives
This article talks a lot about the issues ADHD can cause, but it’s important to know ADHD is also associated with many positive traits. Researchers note that people with ADHD are often:
- capable of both intense focus and divergent thinking
Some of those traits can help make body doubling more successful.
Body doubling is a productivity strategy in which another person works alongside you as you complete a task you might otherwise find challenging. Having someone nearby may help you stay focused, engaged, or motivated to finish the job.
Body doubling works on the same principle as quiet study groups, walking buddies, and public workspaces: the principle that having company can make a hard task easier.
Tasha Chemel, MSW, M.Ed is an executive function coach. She helps adolescent and adult clients, some of whom are neurodivergent, learn to plan, prioritize, and regulate their emotions.
Chemel points out that a body double may or may not assist you with the task you’re completing.
“Often, they are working on something unrelated or on a similar task. They may not be interacting with you at all, just working quietly,” Chemel says.
Body doubling vs. mirroring
Mirroring is a slightly different concept. When someone is mirroring, they’re closely observing and then matching the speech or movements of another person.
With body doubling, the individuals aren’t necessarily doing the same thing.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition. That means it typically appears during childhood when the brain is growing and skills are developing rapidly.
Health experts have classified three types of ADHD according to the kinds of symptoms people experience:
- Inattentive: difficulty with concentration, organization, and instructions
- Impulsive or hyperactive: difficulty sitting still or controlling impulses
- Combined: a combination of the other two types
Having another person present may help overcome some of the challenges of the different types of ADHD. This can be in person or virtually using video chat.
How it works depends on the setting, the task, and your own needs. Finding a body double can be as simple as asking a friend to keep you company while you work.
“If you have a good relationship with a parent, that could be an option,” Chemel says. “You can even go to a coffee shop where you can see other people engaged in a productive task.”
Virtual body doubling
If your body double can’t be with you in person, they can still help you via video chat. This can be just as effective as having someone who is physically present.
Body doubling has become so popular in recent years that it’s possible to find a body double online. There are several online sites where you can either search for or be paired with a body double. Note that some sites require a fee or a subscription.
TikTok is another popular resource for would-be body doubles. Users livestream tasks as mundane as laundry, inviting others to observe or join in as a way to keep them on task.
Connecting with strangers online does not work for everyone. For example, it can be problematic for people who have been surveilled without their permission or who have been bullied on social media.
If you decide to livestream, it’s important to protect your identity and location. You may feel more comfortable with a private online account.
Chemel is clear that research on body doubling is scant. She’s also careful to point out that this productivity strategy does not work for everyone or every task.
Even so, she has seen several potential benefits.
“Often, people know what they need to do, but they have trouble getting started,” Chemel says. “Having a designated time to begin and having the visual cue of another person working can be helpful.”
According to a
There’s no research on body doubling’s effect on procrastination. But this study does show that students can overcome procrastination when they work in groups where they can observe others with better productivity skills.
Body doubling may also help people get or stay motivated.
Brain differences in people with ADHD can lead to low levels of motivation. But while internal motivation may be lower, external factors, such as feedback from others and a sense of reward, can motivate people with ADHD.
“Human beings are social animals,” Chemel notes. “Having someone else around can make a boring or tedious task more fun.”
For people with ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence, managing emotions may be a challenge. At times, emotions can become so intense that they interfere with productivity.
Complex, difficult, or triggering tasks can lead to frustration, anxiety, and the sudden desire to throw in the towel.
A body double can provide perspective or act as a source of calm.
“When you get frustrated, looking at someone who is calm can help you stay engaged,” Chemel explains.
Body doubling probably won’t be effective in every situation.
“Often people think, ‘Oh, this is the thing that is going to work for everyone.’ But it’s important not to make generalizations about what will work,” Chemel says.
In some circumstances, body doubling could cause problems, like:
If you invite a close friend over while you work, you may end up spending more time socializing than working. And, of course, using an app like TikTok can lead to distraction and procrastination.
Sometimes the physical environment can cause distraction, too.
“It’s important to know what’s going to work for you,” Chemel says. “If you’re going to a coffee shop and the cappuccino machine is going, and people are yelling out orders, that could be distracting.”
A good setting is one that won’t be disruptive or distracting to you. Some people function best when there’s utter silence. Some need music. Others can’t tolerate visual clutter.
An environment where you feel safe, supported, and positively stimulated is best.
Neurodivergent people are often the subject of intensely negative messaging around their ability to complete tasks. Your body double should be someone who can create a judgment-free work zone with you.
“People have a lot of shame around what they call their ‘doom piles.’ So when I work with them, I’m not necessarily giving a lot of organizational tips,” Chemel explains. “I create a space where they can talk about projects without judgment.”
Chemel continues, “No matter how mundane the task is — doing a load of laundry or making a peanut butter sandwich — that nonjudgmental space is really important for neurodivergent people who get a lot of judgmental messages. A good coach normalizes the challenges that neurotypical people find easy.”
Not many studies have looked into the effectiveness of body doubling. But research has shown that the brain changes when people engage in tasks together.
Researchers have also used a method known as
Hyperscanning shows that people in social situations:
- closely observe each other’s signals
- predict each other’s actions
- change their own behavior in response
These processes seem to take place in specialized areas of the brain. Whether body doubling taps these specialized areas is something further research will need to confirm.
Even so, there’s anecdotal evidence that body doubling can be an effective way to motivate, activate, and engage people with ADHD.
Tips for selecting a body double
A body double can be anyone, like a friend, relative, or co-worker. Ideally, your body double will deliver the amount of interaction you need in a nonjudgmental way.
You may also consider working with a trained executive function or ADHD coach. A coach can individualize your body doubling experience.
“Sometimes, just being in someone’s presence is not enough, especially if you have uncertainty about a task,” Chemel says. “A coach can help you identify where you’re getting stuck — where there’s a broken link. If the first step of the project feels scary, a coach can help you break that step down even further.”
A coach can also help you reflect on parts of the body doubling experience that did or did not work well for you, she says. That process, sometimes called metacognition, may be difficult for people with ADHD.
Body doubling is not always available, and it doesn’t work for every type of task. People with ADHD have reported using several other strategies to achieve their goals.
- checklists, apps, and devices to remember tasks, meetings, and appointments
- task switching to avoid restlessness and boredom
- rigid daily routines and structures
- physical activity
- calm, quiet, nonstimulating environments
- immersion in nature
Body doubling is a productivity aid that may help people with ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence stay focused and motivated while they’re working.
A body double is a person who works alongside you, either in person or virtually, as you complete a task you might otherwise neglect.
There’s not a lot of research to support body doubling or to explain how it might work, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it helpful. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence in support of this technique.
Choosing a supportive person who won’t distract or shame you is important. An executive function or ADHD coach might be able to offer you extra support during the body doubling experience.
It’s also important to know there are other science-backed options that can help you become more productive if you don’t have access to a body double.