As our physical worlds shrank throughout the pandemic, and our workplaces moved online, some companies found a new business opportunity - charging clients for the privilege of being watched while they work.
In a practice called body doubling, individuals work in the presence of others to seemingly help increase productivity and focus.
While the strategy was already popular among many with ADHD, recently those outside of the ADHD community have started using body doubling to also make tough tasks more manageable.
There are websites, YouTube videos, discord servers, apps and even forums set up to cater for it.
One website boasts an eight-session productivity group, which runs for two hours at a time and costs $200. Another charges $10 an hour for the service.
Kiwis are among those using the strategy.
Annie Romanos, a Kapiti Coast ADHD coach, uses a digital body doubling service about twice a week.
Typical body doubling, she said, is working side-by-side with another person or virtually connecting with someone while working.
“It can be really anchoring for an ADHD person, particularly if they’re hyperactive. So that’s physically anchoring, but also anchoring in terms of attention.”
At the start of her virtual body doubling sessions she said each participant explains what their intention for the session is and while it’s going people often mute themselves.
“But you’re seeing that person do something, so even seeing others be productive as well as a motivator and a stimulator, [helps you] get into the zone of flow with something.”
People with ADHD can struggle with task initiation, she said, describing it as a wall which sometimes feels like a “physical paralysis”.
“It’s like we’ve got two speeds, we’ve got the doing things that we’re really, really interested in and then hyper focusing on that and we’re absolutely unstoppable or doing things of low interest so therefore low dopamine sort of activities that we just can’t even start.”
Sending difficult emails, writing reflections or doing complex work on her own are all things she struggles completing without someone else there.
Something Romanos sees as a key need for people with ADHD is collaboration and community, which she said is why many with ADHD have been struggling during the pandemic.
“Those collegial working structures of going to the office, for example, have been ripped out from under their feet. So the truth is with body doubling, is there’s actually no scientific studies on it yet, it’s anecdotal but it’s a really common strategy that is so powerful.”
Emma Jennings, a Washington-based psychotherapist who also shares neurodivergent and executive function education videos on TikTok, said body doubling is not technically a clinical intervention and there is barely any research on it.
“All of the benefits of body doubling come from anecdotal reports. But essentially it’s using another person, or potentially at times forms of media like themed podcasts to provide an added layer of attention direction and a rewarding factor to otherwise unrewarding tasks.”
Jennings told the Herald her clients report they feel increased attention on the task at hand and more pleasure while using a body double.
“This is not something that would just help someone with ADHD, it can be helpful for anyone who is experiencing any sort of impact to executive functioning skills. So those are the skills that help us pay attention, memorise things, plan or remember details.”
Although Kate McGregor, 45, was only diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, body doubling has always been part of her life.
“I think I found out that it kind of had a name when I was going through the process just before I was diagnosed, and I came across this thing where it was like just hang out with somebody else and you can get stuff done, and I was like ‘no way, that’s a thing!’”
While she had subconsciously been doing it for decades, McGregor said she has now learnt why she can accomplish more of a task if she is speaking to another person.
“I’d be on the phone doing my dishes, changing my bed, all the horrible jobs, all the chores. I did all of those while I was on the phone with somebody.”
The practice is a form of accountability for her, a way she is able to “boost the good brain chemistry” and help her move forward with less desirable jobs.
It’s not all positive, and she said if the body double is “really chatty” that can lead to more distraction, but if she has someone dedicated to getting their work done it works well.
“I’ve worked in a lot of commercial kitchens, and things like that and if it’s just somebody who’s straight on, getting the job done, it’s so much easier for me to just follow the flow.”