Enter body doubling, a productivity hack that can help you start and complete the tasks you dread the most.
By Leah Harris
Adulting is hard. But for people with ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence, it can feel nearly impossible most days. Challenges with executive function mean that it can be difficult for neurodivergent folks to find the motivation to start and complete tasks, even ones they may be interested in. Potentially less exciting but necessary life tasks like cleaning house, food prep, studying, or paying the bills, may go undone altogether, causing stress and anxiety.
The consequences of executive dysfunction can be devastating and long-lasting. Some neurodivergent people report being too embarrassed about their messy living spaces to invite friends and loved ones over. Others may struggle with sticking to routines for their physical or mental health, such as going for walks, cooking, or journaling. Still others may have trouble focusing on paid work, leading to employment instability and economic insecurity. These experiences can accumulate, leaving people stuck in cycles of shame and self-blame.
Enter body-doubling, a productivity hack innovated by and for neurodivergent people. The principle of body doubling is simple: one person remains in the room with another while they tackle a dreaded task. The body doubler does not need to assist with the task; they are simply being present while the other person works. Or, people may be body doubles for one another. Body-doubling can make unpleasant tasks more bearable, maybe even enjoyable.
Body doubling also works to combat isolation. As Liz, an ADHD coach, wrote of the practice: “When we have company we have less trouble getting started. With someone else is there we tend to settle into the activity faster and complete it faster, which leads us to even more productive behaviors.” Of course, it’s not just about productivity for productivity’s sake, which can also become destructive if taken to extremes. The progress achieved through body-doubling helps to break cycles of procrastination, blame, and shame, raising self-esteem.
Body doubling doesn’t have to be done in person: “virtual body doubling” is exploding in popularity on the internet. People may meet together on Zoom or Discord to co-work for blocks of time and celebrate their progress at the end. Some TikTok creators are live-streaming themselves accomplishing tasks, and inviting others to join them.
You don’t have to have a diagnosis of ADHD or identify as neurodivergent to benefit from body doubling. There are a range of challenges and conditions that can interfere with executive functioning and motivation, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Regardless of diagnosis, if you struggle to navigate important life tasks and achieve your goals, body doubling could be well worth a try.
Resources for further exploration:
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.