If you have a habit of procrastinating until it's close to the wire or succumb to distractions a little too easily, it could be time to try body doubling — a strategy where two people work alongside each other to improve productivity.
While the buzzword has been around for decades, the ADHD management approach rose to prominence once again after Covid-19, and has been circulating apps like TikTok and Instagram ever since.
But does body doubling actually make it easier to crack on with tasks? And what can workers do to get the most out of the productivity hack? We answer some burning questions for those interested in testing it out.
What is Body Doubling?
Also referred to as “parallel working” body doubling is a catchy term that describes working in the presence of others to improve productivity and focus.
The strategy itself is nothing new. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we work and blocked access to co-working spaces like offices and cafes, the term was picked up with renewed significance. And now, as 58% of US workers engage in some form of remote work, the practice continues to be as popular as ever.
But body doubling doesn't just refer to in-person co-working. From TikTok live streams to ‘work with me' YouTube videos, a plethora of tools have popped up to help workers harness the practice digitally. You can even use apps and websites to chat with other members of the community and get paired with other body doubles online.
But who exactly is body doubling for? Thanks to its purported ability to boost focus and concentration, it has picked up significant traction within the ADHD community. However, there really is no limit to who can benefit from the technique.
How Does Body Doubling Work?
While the subject of body doubling hasn't been researched extensively, working with others has been shown to increase productivity and focus in a number of ways.
According to some experts, when we're surrounded by others working hard, we instinctively want to imitate them. This is because of something that neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti described as ‘mirror neurons‘ – a distinctive class of neurons that are responsible for us empathizing and emulating other humans.
Other experts believe that when we work alongside someone else – be it in person or virtually – we become more accountable for our actions, leading us to feel more motivated. This is backed up by research, with a study by the American Society of Training and Development finding that those who stated their intentions to other people became 95% more likely to reach their goals.
This sense of social accountability is understood to be even more salient for people with neurodiversity, with J. Russell Ramsay, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania explaining “the idea of externalizing motivation is a long-standing, evidence-based mechanism for managing ADHD”.
But no matter where you lie on the neurodiversity spectrum, here are some tips for getting the most out of the practice.
Body Doubling Tips: How to Get it Right
Body doubling can help you with just about any task imaginable, it's not just reserved for work tasks. However, if you're intent on making body doubling work for you, here are a couple of things to bear in mind.
- Find the right partner – Who you choose to body double with has a massive impact on its success rate. We'd recommend choosing a friend who can get on quietly by themselves, or a virtual stranger who you feel comfortable checking in with from time to time.
- Set your intention right away – Before you get down to it, share the intentions of your session with your body double. This way, you can be held accountable if you start to veer off track.
- Share your camera – Sharing your camera on video conferencing apps may seem a little disarming at first, but sharing your camera with your virtual body double is another way to hold you to account.
- Reach out to the community – If you're having trouble sticking with the practice, chatting with the body doubling community is a great way to seek encouragement and find solutions to any hurdles you might be facing.