Virtual Body Duplication: The ADHD productivity tool has moved to TikTok
“Everyone has been so encouraging,” said Bee, who learned she has ADHD as an adult. “It really felt like a group project, not just me alone in front of the camera. It definitely made the time go by faster.”
The ADHD community calls the practice “body duplication.”
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The phenomenon is not entirely new. We are often twice as fat without realizing it. You might venture to a coffee shop to work with strangers or seek out the energy provided by others at the gym. “If you think about it, office spaces are often just body duplication. You’re just reflecting the people around you,” says Bee.
Worked in the last couple of years though in shared spaces has become rarer. The coronavirus pandemic has kept people away from coffee shops, emptied co-workers’ offices and filled our private spaces with work. For people with ADHD—who struggle with executive skills like starting, completing, and persevering with a task—a structureless solo setting can be particularly challenging. Even people without ADHD might find their attention snapped in an environment where work and life have merged into one big digital blur.
More people have been doing body doubling online lately. An ADHD community has thrived on TikTok, popularizing the term, and a cottage industry of influencers like Bee, who has 114,000 followers. She shows up on TikTok to clean, hosts Discord co-working sessions, and even created a short video of herself going through her bedtime routine for her followers to watch for motivation get yourself ready for bed.
In this way, people with ADHD find a sense of “presence” on their computer screens, a sense of social responsibility when they are alone in a room, and a way to focus using Devices better known for their distractions. Virtual body duplication can be as formal as booking your calendar with meetings hosted by a company like Spacetime Monotasking, or as casual as finding a friend to FaceTime with while you work on a task. You can find options on YouTube and most social media platforms by searching #bodydoubling.
René Brooks, a 37-year-old blogger from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, known as Black girl, lost keysShe started a virtual support group for Black women with ADHD on Monday night because that’s when she does laundry. The session isn’t specifically for body doubling, but Brooks has found that tedious tasks feel more manageable when other people are “near” — even on video chat. At the end of the three-hour session, “I have my meal ready. I did laundry. I cleaned my whole house,” she said.
I just had THE BEST TIME hanging out with my Patreon Discord folks while everyone was cleaning up. Doubling up on bodies and just chatting about life. It made me so happy.
— Rene Brooks | Black Girl Lost Keys | ADHD (@blkgirllostkeys) January 15, 2022
Sloan Burch, a student with ADHD at Clark University, was struggling with a paper when a friend asked her to do a body double on Zoom. At the appointed time, Burch, 23, shared what she was working on and her partner checked in at 30-minute intervals throughout the session. Burch completed her assignment and has been a body doubler ever since.
“Anytime I need to focus a little harder, I look at the screen and I see the person there,” she said. “My brain can mimic what they’re doing instead of finding something else around me to distract it from.”
Although there is no formal research on body doubling, it is similar to the practices recommended by mental health professionals. “The term was new to me, but the concept isn’t,” said Michael Meinzer, director of the Young Adult and Adolescent ADHD Services Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He likened it to the accountability partnerships he encourages students with ADHD to form. Julie Schweitzer, who directs the Attention, Impulsivity, Regulation/ADHD program at the University of California, Davis, said it reminded her of writing accountability groups. “It’s just the application to this population that needs it even more,” she said.
Schweitzer said body doubling could function as what psychologists call an “attitude event” composed of “cues that direct attention.” Working with children with ADHD, she often asked where they did their homework. “I used to hear people say, ‘It’s better to do it outside because then I know my mom is watching me.’ ”
In fact, friendly surveillance is so powerful that some people will pay for it. Spacetime Monotasking subscribers pay $85 per month for unlimited access to “One Hour Sprint” and “Two Hour Flow” sessions on Zoom, or $10 per Drop In session. The company grew out of LA-based co-founder Anna Pugh’s TikTok account. The irony doesn’t escape her: “It’s like recruiting for AA at the liquor store,” she said.
Pugh, 34, begins the sessions by asking everyone to name their goals and has found that participants use the time not only for mundane chores but also for cleaning their kitchen or going for a jog. “Seeing during tax season that everyone is struggling to get their taxes together has kind of normalized that. It was a really powerful experience,” she said. “We might think, ‘There’s something wrong with me because I can’t do this on my own.’ But the reality is sometimes you need the presence of another person.”
Will Canu, a psychology professor who studies attention deficit disorder at Appalachian State University, doesn’t underestimate the influence of these social forces. “We have a little extra motivation to work when we publicly commit to someone else,” he said. There is an “implicit social reward”.
For Brooks, socializing is part of the point. “It’s like the community nature you see when you look at jobs traditionally done by women, like churning butter, shelling peas in circles and so on. It’s absolutely body doubling,” she said. “We’re not just there for the activity, we’re also there for the social connections we make.”
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One-sided social connections or “parasocial relationships” can also be powerful. Many participants double up without even knowing the person on the other side.
Allie K. Campbell, a 32-year-old self-proclaimed “productivity junkie,” hosts body-doubling sessions on TikTok that draw thousands of viewers. Campbell, who lives in New Jersey and was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, uses the Pomodoro Technique and curated playlists to help her stay on track while working on projects for her remote marketing job. She also jokes with her viewers, who occasionally tell her to get back to work.
She recalled a viewer saying that in their session they got more done in 30 minutes than they had done all week before. “They said, ‘What is this black magic you’re doing here?’ ”
Instead of witchcraft, Campbell’s videos might just be a natural extension of TikTok, which began with people mimicking dances. “I have work to do,” Campbell said. “I might as well do it in front of a live audience.”