WTF   //   May 22, 2023

WTF is ‘body doubling’ and how is it helping workers boost productivity?

Scrolling through TikTok you might find live streams of people who prop their phones up and record themselves working from home, tapping away on their laptops. These folks don’t usually talk to the people tuning in on the stream, instead they work normally as if their phone wasn’t there.

What they’re practicing is a technique called “body doubling,” which can help people improve their focus and productivity. The practice has continued to grow in recent years as more and more people are working from home, where they may find more distractions than they would in a typical workplace, and find it hard to maintain focus.

Besides tuning into a livestream, there are other ways that people body double depending on their personal preference. Here’s an explainer:

What exactly is body doubling and who is it for?

Simply put, body doubling means doing a task in the presence of another person. It was first coined a few years ago as a strategy specifically to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, who might struggle to complete certain tasks.

Now, with the rise of remote working, more people are using this technique virtually – like on platforms like TikTok, rather than in-person. And it has also spread beyond people who are diagnosed with ADHD. People are using it as a way of having company, in what can at times feel like a lonely working environment, and to have an accountability partner.

“I didn’t realize how effective or important it was to have someone there until I didn’t,” said Genevieve Wheeler, who was diagnosed with ADHD four years ago. “During the pandemic, when we shifted into an environment where we were working solely, suddenly I was very solitary and it became clear to me I needed someone else’s presence to keep me motivated and going.”

“People with ADHD, or any neurodivergence, pioneer these sorts of techniques that harness your focus. Anyone who tries it, though, will find a very immediate benefit.”
Micah Yongo, a senior editor at Flown.

She said it has significantly helped her with ADHD paralysis, where she feels so overwhelmed with doing a task that she can’t even start it.

Body doubling can be used to complete work tasks, but is also commonly used to stay focused on chores around the house. “I will call a friend and stay with them and say ‘we’re going to do X task for the next 30 minutes’ or I will call my mom and say ‘I need to do dishes and the laundry and please stay on with me during that,” said Wheeler.

Having someone working simultaneously with you is a technique that can help boost productivity, because it more closely mimics an in-office setup, or a coworking space, where you might sit alongside a coworker. But the bustle of those kinds of workplaces can be overwhelming for some, in terms of focus and concentration, so virtual body doubling represents an ideal middle ground.

“People with ADHD, or any neurodivergence, pioneer these sorts of techniques that harness your focus,” said Micah Yongo, a senior editor at Flown, a virtual coworking platform for focus that offers body doubling. “Anyone who tries it, though, will find a very immediate benefit.”

Nicholette Leanza, licensed therapist at LifeStance Health who focuses on clients with ADHD, seconds this: “ADHD or not, just having someone there holds you a little more accountable.”

Leanza says it’s all about figuring out what works for you. One person with ADHD might struggle to focus even more on working if they have someone they could easily talk to, while for another person it might really make a difference in being able to focus. 

“You don’t know until you try it out,” said Leanza, who first heard about it from her clients who said they saw it on TikTok. “If you find yourself more productive, great. Or, you might need to adjust things to make it work for you too.”

Is body doubling only done virtually?

Body doubling can be done with two people physically in the same room or virtually through things like video chats or live streams. 

Everyone goes about it a little differently. 

“Maybe it’s too distracting to have someone sitting across from you in person, so maybe it is better to use an app that matches you with someone virtually,” said Leanza. “It’s so individual what works for each person. It’s a trendy thing right now, but you might have to adjust it for what will work for you.”

Certain apps provide body doubling opportunities for people who might not have others in their lives that are open to something like this. For example, Flown is a virtual coworking platform for focus that offers body doubling. 

Yongo said before working at Flown, he didn’t practice this technique often, but now he does it on a daily basis.

“I always knew I had a need for it,” said Yongo. “Before coming across it, especially when I was working on my second novel, it was hard to get into the headspace and focus, especially with distractions rolling around your head. It was very challenging when I was working towards deadlines.”

“It’s so individual what works for each person. It’s a trendy thing right now, but you might have to adjust it for what will work for you.”
Nicholette Leanza, licensed therapist at LifeStance Health.

While he started off practicing body doubling in person, he transitioned to doing it virtually and he found it even more impactful. He video chats with a couple of friends during the evening where they work alongside one another. 

“You get a sense of camaraderie and community,” said Yongo. “Working alongside someone you feel less lonely, less of a weight on the task you’re working on as well. Working in companionable silence with people makes a significant difference to how much more I feel like actually doing the work. When I’m actually doing it, then I’m staying focused and it’s a lot easier.”

The group gives themselves a time limit, which Leanza says is especially helpful to snap into a hyper focused headspace. Alongside this, Leanza recommends that people set intentions at the top of the call so they have a sense of accountability throughout. It’s up to the people body doubling if they want to be on mute while they work alongside each other or not. 

What difference does body doubling make?

People who body double say that it allows them to get a lot more done in less time than if they didn’t have someone else there with them. 

Leanza said she’s even used sessions with clients to act as a body double because they needed someone to hold them accountable to finishing a task, like sending an email. 

“There’s been times where they say ‘how about this, can we sit here together and I finish this email?,” said Leanza. “I would sit quietly, and I’d be holding them accountable because we’re in session. The presence of me sitting there quietly helps.”

She’s found herself recommending it to more of her clients because she’s seen the difference that it can make for folks struggling to focus. It’s similar to having a gym buddy that pushes you to work harder, or having an accountability partner that ensures you do what you plan to. Some people might be body doubling without even realizing it. 

“There is something really helpful to it,” said Leanza.

From career cushioning to quiet quitting, the workplace has a new language. Check out the WorkLife dictionary to learn the latest terms.