Writing roadblocks come in many forms. For me, it’s always been the act of getting the writing process started: moving towards the desk, sitting in the chair, placing my hands on the keyboard, and starting to type. If I can get that far it’s generally ‘game on’. That is until I get distracted and switch my attention to another task.
Recently, I discovered something called body doubling and it has accelerated my writing outputs.
In this blog post, I explain what I’ve learnt about the body doubling technique and provide some options for you to get started (if it sounds like something you’d like to try). To skip ahead, use the Table of Contents drop-down menu below. Or continue reading 🙂 What follows is my lived experience only. I’m sharing it in case it’s of use to others.
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar… Once I start writing, I often find that my mind begins to wander and I end up giving up to chase an alternative activity. In other words, I procrastinate.
We all have our preferred procrastination practices. Mine is cleaning the house. My sparkling bathroom, curated cabinets, and dust-free countertops may appear somewhat enviable to anyone who visits, but to me, they are artefacts of words that never got written. While you may or may not suffer from the cognitive weight of washed benchtops, it’s fairly common for academics to lament their ability to focus on writing and to become experts in the art of procrastination.
Before we collectively break out the violins and procrastinate further by writing a list of the food and beverage items we’ll need for our soon-to-be organised pity party, I want to share with you some news: the dust on my countertops is now allowed time to settle thanks to a student in Scotland called Merve and a productivity practice called ‘body doubling’.
I’ll introduce you to Merve later. For now, let me introduce you to body doubling.
What is body doubling?
‘Body doubling’ is the practice of having another person present while you try to complete a task.
It is a commonly used tool in the ADHD community to help people focus on achieving things like tidying up, paying bills, and completing homework assignments. It can also be used by academics for academic writing practice.
You don’t have to have ADHD to benefit from the body-doubling technique.
If you’d like to learn more about how body doubling is used as a neurodivergent productivity tool, there are some additional resources provided at the end of this blog post.
What does it mean to body-double someone?
In the presence of another person (i.e. a ‘double’), you complete a task that is of similar nature to the one they’re performing. You and your double (or multiple doubles – more on that later) complete the tasks at the same time.
Body doubling is different from simply ‘mirroring’ another person because you are not copying the exact movement of the other person. With body doubling, individuals can be doing different tasks while in each other’s company. For example, one person could be writing the methods section of a psychology paper while the other person could be reading through the literature, and yet another person could be running a statistical analysis. You’re in the company of others but you are working towards an individual goal – one that’s of the same nature, or shares the same context e.g. doing academic work.
How does body doubling work?
Body doubling helps you complete a task by encouraging you to mimic the behaviour of another person. Having someone present can make you feel accountable and less likely to procrastinate.
I’ve no idea how this magic works, and please forgive me for not taking a deep dive into Google Scholar to report back to you on the exact psychology, but, trust me when I tell you that using the body doubling technique has consistently kept me at my desk, helped me produce written outputs, and, importantly, made the writing process more fun.
Once discovered, I leant into my body doubling practice with an Obi-Wan Kenobi attitude: “trust the force”. So far, the force has delivered.
How do you get a body double?
There are lots of options for accessing the benefits of body doubling. Some include finding a friend or colleague to double with, joining a writing group, or doubling with a YouTube video. A few are listed below.
Find a person to double with
Finding someone to try body doubling with can be one of the biggest challenges when wanting to embrace the practice. It’s not always easy to find someone who is willing to help out, or who’s available at the same times you want to write.
If you want to find a one-on-one academic body double, start by asking around your network – friends, colleagues, etc. – and see if anyone is interested in partnering with you. Then, arrange a time to work together (but on your own writing projects) either in person or online using a platform like Zoom.
It’s important that you take the time to find a body-doubling partner who is a good fit for you. You’ll want someone who is available when you need them, has a similar work ethic and is someone you feel comfortable working with.
If a one-to-one double isn’t for you, consider some of the options below such as joining a Shut Up and Write group or dipping into body-doubling videos on YouTube.
Join a Shut Up and Write group
You can achieve the effects of body doubling by writing in the company of a group of writers. This is the essence of the global phenomenon known as Shut Up and Write. In a nutshell, you spend time with other writers – normally in a classroom, cafe, or library environment – and work in silence on your own writing project, taking short breaks throughout. Writing and break periods repeat for an agreed number of times and for an agreed-upon duration.
The Thesis Whisperer has written about SUAW in some detail, so head over to her blog if you’d like to learn more.
Additionally, information about Shut Up and Write can generally be found on socials by searching #SUAW
If in-person events aren’t for you, you could try joining an online group; when the Big C hit, many Shut Up and Write groups moved online. When participating in online SUAW sessions, it’s common to keep your camera off and microphone muted when working. Even so, when participating in my weekly online writing group, I still get the full dose of the body-doubling benefit because there’s a feeling of working amongst others who are all writing too (even if they are off doing the dishes). In our group, at the start of each session, we declare our goal for the session (e.g. I will write 300 words today), which creates a sense of accountability. Although there are no repercussions for not achieving a declared goal, I still feel driven to work towards it during the session because I’ve told the group that’s what I’ll be doing.
The good news is that you don’t need to find a person, or a group, to partner with.
I thought you said you needed a ‘double’ for body doubling to work!
Luckily, technology has taken care of the task of finding you a body double 🙂
Some options are outlined below.
Digital body doubling
Because I have no set writing schedule, am generally introverted, and try to avoid in-person contact for health reasons, I was delighted to find that there are online and asynchronous options for using the body doubling technique when writing. My favourite is Merve.
Merve has a dedicated Chrome bookmark, and clicking it instantly transports me to Scotland to the workspace of a student who records videos of themself performing academic work. They share their videos on their YouTube channel – there are many sessions to choose from, lasting up to 12 hours!
Merve works in 50-minute blocks, with 10-minute breaks (i.e. she uses a Pomodoro practice). As Merve works, you hear keyboard typing clicks, the sound of pens marking up academic papers, and even the occasional sniffle – which makes for good background noise, because the aim of a body doubling is to help you get your work done and not to sit watching YouTube videos 🙂
There are many Merve-style alternatives. You can find them on YouTube by searching the phrase ‘Study With Me‘
Body doubling apps and platforms
I haven’t tried it, and therefore this is not an endorsement, but along my travels exploring body doubling I found the site called FLOWN. It appears to combine the powers of body doubling, deep work, and the asynchronous convenience of technology to offer body-doubling style work environments. If you’re reading this blog post and have experience with the site, I’d love to know your thoughts. I’ve saved it to my Evernote Second Brain to investigate it in the future and will update this post if it’s any good 🙂
In conclusion, body doubling can be a great tool for helping to create a sense of focus and responsibility – to get the writing done. But, there’s no one magic technique or tool to turn us into super-human academic writing machines. Body doubling is just another tool to potentially put in your academic toolbelt :
If this article has been useful to you, I encourage you to share it with others ☀️ ☀️ ☀️
If you’d like to start your own blog and share what you’re learning with the world, here’s a link to my free guide to getting your own blog up and running
What is body doubling?
Body doubling is a technique that can help you focus by having someone else present and mirror behaviour. This can be done in person or online and can involve a partner, a group, or by watching a video.
How does body doubling work?
When using body doubling, you have someone else present who mirrors the behaviour you are trying to achieve. This helps to create a sense of focus and responsibility.
Is body doubling a good tool?
It works for me. I’ve no idea if it will work for you. For the most part, I’ve found body doubling to be an effective focusing tool. It helps to create a sense of focus and responsibility that was lacking without it. Additionally, it has provided a sense of community by making writing more social.
Are there any alternatives to body doubling?
Yes, there are a few alternatives to body doubling. For example, you can use digital tools such as Pomodoro timers, productivity apps or asynchronous video-sharing platforms to create a sense of focus and community without having someone else present. Additionally, you could also practice deep work techniques like ‘time blocking’ and ‘focus periods’.
Does body doubling work for everyone?
No, body doubling may not work for everyone. Some people find it difficult to focus when there is someone else present, while others might prefer a more private approach to writing. Ultimately, it’s about what works best for you.
Are there any downsides to body doubling?
Yes, there are a few potential downsides to body doubling. For example, you might find it difficult to keep up with your double’s progress, or you might become easily distracted when someone else is present.