How 'Body Doubling' Can Help You Start And Complete Tasks
Certain tasks that have to be done — such as putting away the dishes and cleaning the chair piled with clothes that “aren’t dirty but also aren’t clean” — are chores many of us would rather not do. I mean, watch an episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or fold shirts? Yeah, that’s not a hard one.
Finding motivation can be difficult, especially after a long day of work. It can be especially hard for people with ADHD who struggle with initiating tasks, staying focused and not growing overwhelmed. But here’s the good news: “Body doubling,” or working alongside someone, is a tool that can help.
What does body doubling entail or look like? If you’re self-employed, you could work at a coffee shop instead of at home. Or if you need to fold clothes, you could do it beside your kids while they work on homework. Basically, you just need another person in the same room as you, either physically or virtually.
Social worker Justin Gillespie shared in a TikTok that he does this with his virtual ADHD clients; filmmaker and author Kelsey Darragh mentioned the helpfulness of body doubling in a tweet. It’s a tool that many people may even use already without realizing it has a name.
How Body Doubling Helps You Complete Tasks
As you’ve probably guessed, body doubling provides accountability and works as a motivator.
“Seeing others engaging in and being rewarded for on-task behaviors often motivates them to mimic that behavior,” explained Danielle Dellaquila, a senior associate therapist at Gateway to Solutions in New York City. “Additionally, people with ADHD often struggle to regulate their emotions and feel calm, and having a safe support person alongside them can be helpful and soothing.”
Additionally, it can make chores less, well, blah. “Body doubling could be helpful for anyone that struggles to stay focused, or prefers to pair a pleasant activity with a less pleasant one,” said Liv Harrington, director of clinical operations for virtual teen programs at Lightfully Behavioral Health, who has ADHD. An example they gave is how having a friend over (fun) while cleaning out your closet (not so fun) can make the job more enjoyable and easier to complete.
Plus, from a neurological standpoint, body doubling just makes sense. “Because people with ADHD have a dopamine deficiency and spending time with others boosts dopamine, this may be part of the benefits received from body doubling,” Dellaquila added.
However, you probably won’t find any studies on the efficacy of this. Most of the information out there is anecdotal. “So what we don’t know is how body doubling compares to alternatives such as medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or other attention/concentration techniques,” said Jenna Vyas-Lee, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of leading mental health care clinic Kove. “However, anecdotally, lots of people find it really helpful to have somebody else in the same space as them.”
Having someone nearby as you start a task can help encourage you to complete it.
How To Body Double Effectively
Other than those basics, what other factors should you keep in mind?
One piece is whether you need your body double to be doing the same task as you. “For some people, it is most helpful when the body double is doing a similar task. For example, one person writes a paper while another studies for something,” Dellaquila said. “For others, the primary motivator is the other person in the same room, regardless of what they are doing.”
Additionally, consider your working style. Once you start doing something, do you get laser-focused, or are you easily distracted (or sometimes both)? That might affect who you call to be with you.
“If the body double becomes distracted but [it] is not noticeable to the person with ADHD, then it might not make a difference,” Dellaquila said. “However, if a body double gets noticeably distracted, there is a good chance that the person with ADHD will also get distracted.”
Also, unless you’re in a coffee shop with strangers, consider aspects such as when you and your body double will take breaks and what you find distracting, such as phone calls, Vyas-Lee said. (Some trial and error may be needed here if you aren’t sure yet.)
Along those lines, body doubling won’t work for everyone ― at least in the same way. “There are some people who may find having someone else in the room as a distraction, because it’s a way to interact,” Vyas-Lee said. “This can be an issue for those who are very sociable and seek out that social element, as it can serve to distract.”
Ultimately, she believes in tailoring this hack to your needs. For example, if you struggle most with initiation, you may only want a body double as you get started. Others might want a body double to pop in towards the end of the job to help them get to the finish line.
(BTW, if you need a virtual body double, Harrington mentioned registering for a site such as BodyDoubling.com or FocusMate.com.)
Body doubling can be useful for anyone.
Is Body Doubling Just For People With ADHD?
Nope! In fact, many populations reap the benefits. Vyas-Lee said body doubling can help anyone who struggles with attention, concentration and finishing tasks. More specifically, it can help people with autism stay focused on tasks that aren’t interesting to them, according to Dellaquila.
As far as people with ADHD, however, it helps some more than others, “often proving most helpful for those with the ‘inattentive’ of ‘combined’ subtypes of ADHD,” Harrington said.
Other Ways To Stay Focused And Complete Tasks
When body doubling isn’t an option, what are some other tips experts suggest? Dellaquila recommended self-regulation strategies (such as mindfulness, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation) to calm your body and orient yourself to the task at hand. She also mentioned rewarding yourself after finishing a task with an episode of a show, your favorite drink, etc., and setting visual cues, such as checklists, to remind you of what’s left to do.
Other tips Vyas-Lee encouraged include working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, taking regular breaks and breaking tasks down into small chunks.
Harrington shared “low dopamine mornings” as a way to feel more in control of your to-do list.
“This routine includes not looking at your phone for the first hour after you wake up (especially avoiding social media) and completing small tasks as soon as possible, such as making your bed, brushing your teeth or tidying up five items,” they explained. Really, any low-stress task will do, whether that’s journaling, meditating, watering your plants or eating breakfast, they added.
Ultimately, it’s fairly hard to argue that certain chores will ever be “fun,” per se, but body doubling can make them more bearable if you need a little kick of motivation or accountability.