How a Body Double Can Help You Focus Better and Be More Productive
Updated: Nov 7
By Patty Laushman
No, I'm not talking about the kind of body double who stands in for an actor during dangerous scenes or a political decoy who impersonates a politician to draw attention away from them or to take risks on their behalf.
Body doubling for someone with autism, ADHD, or executive functioning challenges is a practice in which the person simply works in the presence of someone else on tasks they either struggle to start or complete – or tasks that may be frustrating. It also works well for neurotypical people who are prone to procrastinating.
The body double can make a boring task more fun, making the task more likely to get done. Their presence provides a subtle accountability to stay focused and on task. Their presence can even be soothing, providing an external source of emotional regulation.
There are many ways to use a body double! Sometimes they are directly involved in the activity you are working on, and sometimes they are not. Active participation in the task is not always necessary or even desirable in some cases. Hopefully, the examples below will give you ideas for how you can use a body double in your own life to get more done and enjoy the process as well.
They May Work With You
A body double may actually work with you on a non-preferred chore, like when I help my teenage son unload the dishwasher.
Also, everyone knows that exercisers will stick with a new exercise regimen if they have a workout buddy, someone who will be disappointed if they cancel.
They May Work on the Same Task, But Independently
They may work on the same task but independently, like the many "study parties" I hosted in college. Physics homework, anyone?
This is also how we do our "family cleaning parties" where we all clean the house on Saturday morning, but we are each working on different chores.
They May Simply Keep You Company
The body double may simply keep you company while you do what you need to do. My husband and I frequently employ this strategy for chores we need to do outside the home that we don't feel like doing. We will ride-along with the other and keep them company, even though this is completely unnecessary to getting the task done, but it helps the person who needs motivation to get out the door.
It's also a good technique when my husband has pants that need hemming. I abhor hemming pants, but I abhor the cost of having someone else do this for us even more. All his new pants need to be hemmed, so they sit on my desk for weeks or even months before he finally agrees to sit and talk with me while I do this non-preferred task.
They May Sit Quietly and Do Their Own Thing
They may just sit nearby while you work on the task you are trying to complete without expectation of social interaction. We've used this extensively in our homeschool. My son struggles to get started and continue in his online lessons, so we schedule specific hours during the week where my mom comes over and simply sits next to him while he does this schoolwork. She doesn't teach. She sometimes reads her Kindle. If his focus wanders, she will ask questions about the material to gently redirect him.
They May Be Virtually Connected
Most exciting in this post-pandemic age is that most people have access to a virtual platform that can be used to connect body doubles from any location that has access to the Internet.
I have scheduled time with friends who are working on non-preferred tasks they can't get done to work "together" on Zoom, silently, working on our own tasks. There is something about seeing their face on camera and knowing they will know if I am not at my desk working that enables me to focus on stuff I just don't want to do!
We agree in advance that we won't use the time for chit chatting. We start the session by stating what we will be working on during the session and record that in the chat to increase accountability. Then we mute our mics but keep our cameras on and get to work! As we accomplish different tasks, we update the chat to let others know what we have finished. Then at the end we share a summary and celebrate success!
There have not been any studies published on the efficacy of this self-help technique, but I can tell you from personal experience that I get at least 50 percent more done if I'm struggling to start a task if I have a body double. In some cases, like hemming my husband's pants or supervising my son's online lessons, it's the difference between the task getting done or not.
Try it yourself! It's a great time to pay bills, fold that laundry, brainstorm about a project you've thought about starting, fill out insurance forms, make those phone calls you don't want to make, read something you've been avoiding, research a new therapy, do your family or business bookkeeping, grade papers, or whatever you are struggling with.