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Body Doubling ADHD: The Secret Weapon to Kickstart Productivity

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
March 28, 2024

Ever found yourself staring at a blank screen while that daunting task looms over you like a dark cloud? Welcome to the world of ADHD productivity—or, more accurately, the lack thereof. But what if I told you there's a secret weapon that might help you slay procrastination? It's called body doubling, and it's as intriguing as it sounds.

In this article, we'll be diving into:

  • The ADHD symptoms with which body doubling ADHD can help the most. 
  • Unpacking the concept of body doubling
  • The science (or lack thereof) behind body doubling
  • The pros and cons of body doubling
  • Practical tips for effective body doubling
  • Alternatives to body doubling

So, buckle up, my ADHD comrades, as we embark on this journey of discovery together!

[Symptoms for body double]The ADHD Symptoms Where ADHD Body Double Can Help

Before we delve into the midst, let’s do a quick reminder on why should we even care about this body-doubling thingamajig in the first place? 

Well, it’s because body doubling is a technique to deal with specific issues and concerns. It’s not something you can just throw at the wall to solve every problem under the sun. 

And thus, let’s focus on the ADHD symptoms where body doubling can feel like doubling your brain power.

Living with ADHD is like being in a constant battle with your brain. You're armed with a to-do list as long as your arm, a head full of ideas, and a burning desire to get things done. But the enemy is formidable. It's a trio of productivity killers: impulsivity, distraction, and low motivation

1. The Uninvited Whims of Impulsivity

Impulsivity is like that uninvited guest who crashes your party and throws everything into chaos. You might be in the middle of a task, intending to see it through. Suddenly, you're doing something entirely different and can't remember why you abandoned your original task. This constant switching of gears can make it difficult to progress, leading to a day filled with activity but little to show.

2. The Frustration of Distraction

Then a distraction lures you away from your work with the promise of a good time. It could be a sudden noise, an interesting thought, or even a speck of dust floating in the sunlight. Whatever form it takes, distraction has an uncanny ability to pull your attention away from what you're supposed to be doing. No matter how hard you try to stay on course, the wind keeps blowing you off track.

3. The Heavy Burden of Low Motivation

Low motivation is the most insidious of the three. You know what you need to do. You know why you need to do it. You can't summon the energy to get started.

4. The Impact on Life

These challenges aren't just annoying; they can profoundly impact various aspects of life. At work, ADHD can make it difficult to meet deadlines, stay organized, and maintain focus during meetings. It can lead to poor grades, missed assignments, and difficulty learning. Even personal projects, which should be a source of joy and fulfillment, can become a source of stress and frustration.

[Definition]What is Body Doubling ADHD?

Have you ever been stuck on a problem seemingly for days, only for a friend to pop up and point out a solution in seconds? Two heads are always better than one. Heck, even Batman has a sidekick. 

Though we are not necessarily talking about a discrete task rather than the abstract but vicious productivity killer trio we’ve discussed earlier, this concept of jolly cooperation applies here as well. 

Hence, the body doubling.

Body doubling is about two people working independently in the same space, so you don’t have to work on the same task together. Instead, it’s the mere presence of another that impacts your ability to focus and get things done. 

The Power of Company

Think back to your school days. Remember how you would sit with your friends and study together? Even though you were working on different subjects, their presence made studying easier. Or consider how you feel more motivated to exercise when you have a workout buddy. That is the principle behind body doubling.

The concept of body doubling isn't new. It's been used for years in various forms. Study groups, co-working spaces, and quilting bees* exemplify body doubling. The common thread is that having a company can make a hard task easier.

*  - The quilting bee was an extremely popular social event in the mid-nineteenth century. The quilting bee provided a social space for women to gather and gossip while they simultaneously expressed their artistic capabilities. (Source)

Random history trivia in your ADHD article? Why…yes. 

Body Doubling and ADHD

Well, (un)fortunately, we are all born too late to be ye olde spinster maidens bemoaning the poor harvest before the snow falls, so what gives? 

Don’t worry, quilt in hand or not, we can still get our use out of the body-doubling magic. 

It’s all about how our ADHD brains are wired and the ability to channel the subconscious stress of societal pressure into a positive flow. 

What do we know about ADHD? That ADHDers often struggle with self-regulation1. We need help starting tasks, staying on track, and managing time, always getting distracted by virtually anything that is not our task

But adding someone else in the room creates that certain je ne sais quoi of accountability. When we have someone else to watch our every move, we’re less likely to get distracted by thoughts or give in to the temptation of doing something else. 

In other words, a body double is a form of external self-regulation helping us stay sharp and on point. 

[The science behind]The Science Behind Body Doubling

The Anecdotal Evidence

Right-o. Well, what does our frequent collaborator say about body-doubling benefits for ADHD? 

John Science says: eh? 🤷

Body doubling is a relatively new concept in ADHD research, and there haven’t been that many studies looking at its effectiveness in this scope. 

But that’s not to say there is no social proof to support its effectiveness! A quick cursory glance at social media suggests that plenty of ADHDers have used body doubling effectively.

The consensus across posts such as this one indicates that ADHDers who use the body doubling approach can maintain better focus and feel less overwhelmed and more productive overall. Some even go out to say that it’s the most effective strategy they’ve found for boosting their productivity.

The Potential Neurological Benefits

But what about research outside of the ADHD domain? While waiting for ADHD brainiacs to cook something for us, let’s look at the related fields to explore the benefits and mechanisms behind body doubling.

One hypothesis suggests that it’s all about 😳arousal levels. Well, not that arousal. In this context, it mostly refers to general excitement, as we are more alert and engaged with our environment when someone else is around2

It’s not a secret that people with ADHD often have lower arousal levels, thus making it difficult to start and focus on tasks. But this subtle social pressure, a.k.a a desire not to reveal our innate gremlin nature, compels us to engage with work. 

The second hypothesis is about emotional regulation. Emotions can be a tough beast to wrangle with sometimes, especially when it comes to things that don’t give us a dopamine boost. Having a body double can thus provide social and emotional support, helping keep our emotions in check and making tasks less daunting overall3

[The Pros and Cons]The Pros and Cons of Body Doubling

The Bright Side of Body Doubling

Ask not about what you can do for body doubling but what body doubling can do for you! 

Before you try this new and exciting technique, let’s sink our teeth into what makes it tick (and what doesn’t!). 

  • Get in the Zone Quicker: Having a body double can get you into a “zone” quicker, as it creates a clear and distinct separation between the time of leisure and zoning out (alone time) and the cooperative activity. 
  • Improved Focus: With a body double, you're less likely to get distracted by your thoughts or environment. Remind yourself that one of the pitfalls of having ADHD is decreased arousal, especially when it comes to activities with a delayed dopamine reward. Having a buddy to encourage you can shorten that gap; you’re not just doing something for yourself. You’re hanging around with a friend, so seeing them motivated and enjoying themselves can be just that dopamine boost you need. 
  • Better Emotional Regulation: When you come to the roadblock that frustrates or triggers you when you’re solo, a body double companion can give you a refreshing perspective and kick you out of the beginnings of ADHD paralysis

The Potential Pitfalls

But like any strategy, body doubling isn't without its potential downsides. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Distractions: Ever had a situation where you and your friend decided to do a studying cram session but instead ended up playing video games all night? While a body double can help you stay focused, they can distract you. Instead of doubling the productivity, you get double the laziness (and fun!) Setting clear boundaries and expectations ensures your body doubling session is productive.
  • Dependence: It’s good to have a system that works in a pinch, but you can’t always depend on the body double being there for you. There’s always a risk of becoming too reliant on this technique for productivity, as diversification and moderation are crucial with everything. You must develop other strategies and techniques to master your ADHD fully, lest you want to make yourself more susceptible to ADHD burnout.
  • Shame or Judgment: If you're sensitive about your ADHD, you might feel ashamed or judged having someone else in the room while you work. It's crucial to choose a body double who is understanding and non-judgmental. 

[Practical Tips]Practical Tips for Effective Body Doubling

Finding Your Body Double

So, you're sold on body doubling and ready to try it. But where do you find a body double? The good news is it can be anyone: a friend, a family member, a coworker, or a pet. Yes, a pet 🐈. Some people find that having their dog or cat in the room can provide the same benefits as a human body double.

In fact, your body double doesn’t even need to be in the same room as you. So ADHD body doubling online is more than doable, as well. 

Setting Up a Productive Session

Once you've found your body double, it's time to set up a productive session. Here are a few tips:

  • Set Clear Expectations: Make sure your body double knows what they're signing up for. They should understand they're there to work on their tasks, not help you with yours.
  • Choose the Right Environment: Find a space where you can work comfortably. If you're doing it online, it could be your living room, a coffee shop, or even a virtual space.
  • Limit Distractions: Remember, the goal is to boost productivity, not hinder it. So, keep the chit-chat to a minimum and save the socializing for after work.
  • Take Breaks: Remember to take regular breaks. It can be tempting to power through, especially if you're on a roll, but short breaks can boost your productivity in the long run.

Choosing the Right Body Double

Choosing the right body double is the key to a successful body doubling session. They should be someone who is supportive, non-judgmental and understands the challenges of ADHD. Remember, this is not about having someone to police you or push you to work harder. It's about having someone to share the journey with, making the road to productivity less lonely.

[Finding Body Double]Finding Your Body Double with Numo

In our exploration of body doubling, we've seen how this simple strategy can be just what you need for ADHD.

But I also emphasize the importance of finding the right body double because a person that is judgemental or too much of a distraction can do more harm than good.

So, a perfect body double can be a fellow ADHDer on the same search as you. And that is one of the reasons why we created Numo

Numo, an app designed by ADHDers for ADHDers, is more than just a digital tool—it's a community. At the heart of this community are the Squads and Tribes, safe spaces where you can connect, share, and learn from fellow ADHDers. And who knows, you might just find your ideal body double here.

But Numo offers more than just a chance to find a body double. It's packed with features designed to support you in your ADHD journey:

  • ADHD Planner: Consider it a video game where you're the main character, and each completed task levels you up. Its task management made fun.
  • Noise Generator: With pink/white/brown noise options, Numo can provide a comforting sound blanket to help you focus or unwind.
  • Squads and Tribes: These are the heart and soul of the Numo community. They're safe spaces where you can connect with fellow ADHDers, share your experiences, and find your perfect body double.
  • Warehouse of Knowledge: Packed with tips, insights, and coping strategies, it's like having a library of ADHD wisdom at your fingertips.

[Alternatives]Alternatives to Body Doubling

While body doubling can be a powerful tool, it's not the only strategy for boosting ADHD productivity. Here are a few other techniques you might find helpful:

  • Checklists and Apps: Technology can be a lifesaver when managing ADHD. Countless apps and tools are designed to help with task management, time tracking, and focus.
  • Task Switching: If you're struggling to stay engaged with a task, try switching to a different one. That can reset your focus and keep your brain engaged.
  • Rigid Daily Routines: A consistent daily routine can provide the structure many people with ADHD crave. It can also help to reduce decision fatigue, freeing up mental energy for more important tasks.
  • Seeking Calm, Quiet Environments: While some people with ADHD thrive in busy environments, others do best in calm, quiet spaces. Experiment with different environments to see what works best for you.

Conclusion

Before we wrap up, let's take a quick look back at what we've learned:

  • The ADHD Challenge: Living with ADHD can be a constant battle against impulsivity, distraction, and low motivation. 
  • Unpacking Body Doubling: Body doubling is a simple yet powerful concept. It involves two people working independently in the same space. The mere presence of another person can profoundly impact your ability to focus and get things done.
  • The Science Behind Body Doubling: While extensive research on body doubling is lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests it can be a game-changer for people with ADHD. The potential neurological benefits include increased arousal and better emotional regulation.
  • The Pros and Cons of Body Doubling: Body doubling can help you get in the “zone” faster, improve focus, and provide emotional support. However, potential downsides include distractions, dependence, and feelings of shame or judgment.
  • Practical Tips for Effective Body Doubling: Finding the right body doubles, setting clear expectations, choosing the right environment, and taking regular breaks can all contribute to a successful body doubling session.
  • Alternatives to Body Doubling: Other productivity strategies for people with ADHD include using checklists and apps, task switching, maintaining rigid daily routines, and seeking calm, quiet environments.

Body doubling might sound strange, but it is just what you need. Body double presents a subtle form of accountability to help you accomplish more things

However, like any strategy, it's not a silver bullet. What works for one person might not work for another. So, feel free to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for you.

And remember, ADHD is not a flaw or a failing. It's simply a different way of being in the world. So, whether you try body doubling or stick with your tried-and-true strategies, remember that the goal is not to "fix" yourself but find ways to thrive with ADHD.


Science sourses
1. Clinical Psychology Review. Self-Regulation in ADHD: The Role of Error Processing
2. Neuron. Hyperscanning: Beyond the Hype.
3. Trends Neurosci. Neuro-Immune mechanisms regulating social behavior: Dopamine as mediator?
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