If you find it hard to perform mundane chores like paying bills, folding laundry, or cleaning the kitchen when you’re by yourself, here’s a productivity tip for you: Try tackling these types of tedious to-dos with another person in the room. It’s a practice known as "body doubling."
No, this isn't a clinical term or even a deeply studied concept, but it is a tool people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) use to stay on task that anyone can benefit from trying when they have the same issue.
What is body doubling
"Body doubling is a strategy where you work alongside another person as you attempt to engage in or complete a task," says Andrew Kahn, PsyD, associate director of behavior change and expertise at the nonprofit Understood, which provides resources for people with learning and attention issues.
"Body doubling doesn't typically include any form of interaction, but in some cases, doubles may serve as a model for tasks. Or they may even engage in the same task to build motivation," Dr. Kahn says.
Why it works
Although the benefits of body doubling haven’t been studied, anecdotal evidence indicates that the practice helps motivate people to stay on task, which is something people with ADHD often struggle with due to lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a key role in the brains reward system.
Without the incentive of reward, boring tasks can feel unbearable and often get deprioritized for activities that produce dopamine instead. Think about trying to tackle a stack of bills, laundry, or dishes when your phone chimes with an Instagram notification.
But with body doubling, another person's presence may be rewarding enough to keep you on task. The double's presence may serve as a type of organizing stimulus. There's actually something similar in the research on white noise, Dr. Kahn shares, which shows that the additional stimulation provided by white noise in a quiet setting may actually improve focus by stimulating dopamine production.
"Perhaps it's possible that the presence of another person has a similar effect on the brain's chemical responses, applying a form of neurological ‘peer pressure,’ or feelings of support that increase dopamine production and focus," says Dr. Kahn.
Different ways to practice body doubling—even if you live alone
Before engaging in body doubling with someone else, it’s important to establish some ground rules. Some different styles of body doubling include the "pomo doro" technique in which you set a timer for chunks of focus time and chunks of talking time.
You could also code the level of interaction you want to have with the other person in terms like red light (meaning no talking) or green light, during which time talking is welcome or encouraged.
Even if you live alone, Facetiming someone while performing tedious tasks (or even co-working together over a video call) counts as body doubling. The same rules can apply remotely as they would IRL.
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