Hack Your Focus With Body Doubling

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When I first started writing, I used to endlessly procrastinate, taking months to write a single piece. I would put writing sessions in my calendar, and then end up in my inbox, reading the news, or doing menial admin tasks—anything but writing.

In a distracted world, the ability to consistently do deep work is a competitive advantage. 

It's impossible to create meaningful works of tech, writing, or art without the capacity to sit down and focus for extended periods. And yet, many of us struggle to do so. 

This issue often comes up in my work with founders. At the early stage, entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to distraction, as they don’t yet have customers and employees to keep them accountable. As a company grows, focused time often falls by the wayside in the face of emails, Slack messages, and meetings.

When the device we use for deep work is also the place where we access YouTube, Slack, Twitter (now X), email, and Netflix, it's no wonder we end up distracted. How are we to stay on track when our intention is to sit down at a screen and create something new?

Over time, I found a potent strategy for attaining focus amid distractions: body doubling. This productivity technique is highly effective, yet widely underutilized. After 18 months of body doubling, I can now put out a draft in 1-2 weeks—and writing is no longer a struggle.  

Body doubling is both a form of accountability and a tool for increasing grit in the face of challenging tasks we tend to avoid. At its most basic, it means having someone next to you—a “body double”—as you work on difficult tasks.

Productivity is often a game of emotion regulation—we avoid tasks because they bring up  difficult emotions, like fear, shame, or uncertainty. Body doubling is a simple and powerful way to stay on track when challenges arise and our emotional response is to seek distraction.

We all have important things that we find it hard to make time for (or outright avoid). If you learn to use it well, body doubling can become your secret weapon—a way to consistently perform in any area that brings up avoidance and procrastination.

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The case for body doubling

In his book The Now Habit, psychologist Neil Fiore writes that a primary reason we procrastinate is because as humans, we are social beings, but focused work requires quiet time alone. If our social and play needs aren’t being met, sitting down to work on a task by oneself can be highly aversive.

Moreover, as mentioned above, we tend to procrastinate on tasks that bring up difficult emotions, like fear, pressure, or self-doubt. When a task is aversive and being alone is also aversive, it’s no wonder we end up seeking relief by switching over to email, Twitter/X, or Slack.

By having a body double, solitary work becomes social, making it more palatable. And when we are in the presence of another person, we actually respond differently to perceived threats—a phenomenon known as social buffering. In this way, body doubling reduces the aversiveness of solitude and mitigates the unpleasantness of the task itself.

Whatever you tend to avoid can be a potential target for body doubling. I've seen people use it as support and accountability for all sorts of things:

  • Processing email
  • Writing and coding
  • Carving out time for strategic thinking
  • Doing sales or marketing
  • Staying on top of admin tasks
  • Planning the day and week ahead
  • Working on side projects outside of work

Why isn’t this technique more widely used?

Many of the founders I’ve worked with see distraction as a personal failing they have to overcome on their own. Having to rely on accountability from a friend or employee can feel like failure, especially when compared to hustle porn about how “good founders” should be able to work like an automaton, rather than a complex human being.

The truth is, in our modern, dopamine-rich environment, distraction is a common problem. In this context, your success as a founder or creator depends on your ability to step out of reactivity and carve out time to focus on what’s most important—and there is no shame in using the most effective tool for the job.

Body doubling in practice

The first step in trying body doubling in your own life is to zero in on something important that you tend to avoid or just never seem to find time for. To find this, you might ask yourself:

What am I avoiding? 

What’s the most important thing that I’m not investing adequate time into? 

For founders and CEOs, a good place to start is carving out whitespace time—a 3-4 hour period on your calendar with no meetings or distractions. Maker time often falls by the wayside as a company grows, but even a late-stage CEO needs uninterrupted time to step back from the business and think, and this is only possible if you proactively protect that time on your calendar. 

Once you’ve picked a target activity, the next step is to decide who to work with as a body double and how you want to work together. There are several patterns I commonly see that we’ll explore from the lowest to highest effort:

Work with a friend or colleague

Inviting a friend or colleague to body double with you is the simplest, cheapest, and least structured approach. All you need to do is find someone who is also interested in your target activity, be it writing, coding, or admin, and then pick a time to work on it together.

Peer-to-peer body doubling tends to bring benefits to both people, and as mentioned above, is a tool I’ve used for years to build consistency into my writing practice. What I’ve found works best is to set a specific time to meet, and then set a timer for 45-60 minute work sprints. You can do these virtually, though I recommend meeting in person if possible.

I like visual timers, like this one from Amazon, so you can get a quick sense of how much time is left in a session. After the buzzer goes off, take 5-10 minutes to socialize, and then either get back to your day or start another work sprint. Doing two or three of these in a day can be a huge unlock and help build up momentum to begin tackling these tasks at home on your own. 

Hire someone part-time

Another great option for body doubling can be to hire someone to support you on specific tasks. 

One reason to try this is when you want more consistent accountability than might be available from your friends or colleagues. For example, Dan has written about how he hired an “email babysitter” to hop on calls with him several days a week and process his inbox. It would have been hard to find a friend who had the desire and ability to meet that often, so hiring someone made the most sense.

Another reason to bring on paid support is when you can benefit from outside expertise in the area you’re focused on. I did this myself when starting a consultancy a handful of years ago. We had quickly scaled to 4-5 simultaneous projects, and I felt underwater when it came to project management. So I hired someone I knew who was great at ops to get on a call with me twice a week and scope out all the work we were doing.

This was a game-changer for me. It made the endeavor way less stressful. Since we were meeting consistently, I knew we had time blocked off for high-level planning, so I could just focus on doing the work. In addition to the accountability, I benefited from his depth of operational expertise. 

When you hire someone to work with you, you can get the double benefit of both body doubling (accountability) and expertise. Expertise alone is not sufficient; a big part of the benefit is having someone to hold you accountable to actually doing the work.

This tactic works best if you actually like spending time with the person you hire, as it gives you a reason to look forward to your time together. For this reason, I recommend hiring friends or former colleagues if you can. Otherwise, if hiring someone from Upwork or your extended network, I would vet for personality fit and vibes as much as for expertise.

Bring someone on full time

A third option to explore is bringing on someone full time. This is the highest cost of the three, and is typically only accessible for well-resourced founders and executives. Still, if it’s available to you, it can be one of the best ways to increase your personal velocity.

This was the case for Shannon,* a founder I worked with for whom body doubling was a game changer. A hacker in her early twenties, she had raised a substantial seed round off of an early prototype. However, when that failed to gain traction, she found it hard to maintain motivation through several pivots. 

She had been diagnosed with ADHD a year earlier, and had short stints of near-superhuman levels of productivity, followed by doing nothing for days at a time. While ADHD medication and cutting out high-dopamine activities (like Netflix and video games) brought some improvement, the real breakthrough came when she hired an in-person teammate. 

Originally, she had been reluctant to do so, as she had a remote and distributed team, and it would be expensive to bring someone on locally in San Francisco. However, I pointed out that an unproductive founder was potentially costlier to a company than hiring an additional employee, so she decided to give it a try.

It turned out to be one of the biggest unlocks we had in our work together. Having someone to see everyday in the office, socialize with at lunch, and sit alongside while working turned out to be highly motivating. This was the case even when they weren't working together on the same task—and when they did pair on a project, it was even more enjoyable.

Overnight, Shannon went from getting in 1-2 days of real work each week to consistently working a full work week, and the company’s product velocity shot up dramatically. She was a lot happier at work, all thanks to the life-changing magic of body doubling. 

Giving it a try

Using body doubling in a specific area doesn’t mean that you’ll always need it. Body doubling can be a great way to build your initial confidence and momentum, and over time, you can scale it back and try doing more work on your own. This is what has happened with my relationship with writing—over time, I developed the capacity to write on my own.

If you do want to titrate down your body doubling, you might consider how your environment may be affecting your dopamine system in ways that make focused work more difficult. If you’re using a lot of TikTok, YouTube, or addictive substances, that can make individual focus significantly more difficult.

For example, in her book Dopamine Nation, psychologist Anna Lembke shares the story of a computer science student at Stanford who played a lot of video games and was thinking of changing his major. When he quit video games for a month, he started enjoying his programming classes. It turned out he actually liked his major; it just couldn’t compete with video games.

This is an extreme example, but many of us engage in high dopamine activities throughout the day as we check our inbox, read Hacker News, or watch YouTube—or we drink alcohol or smoke weed to wind down at night. Identifying and cutting back on these easy dopamine sources can make it easier to do focused work, with or without a body double.

Finally, it is often helpful to explore in therapy, coaching, or personal reflection what it is specifically that leads you to avoid certain tasks. For example, one of the things I see founders deal with when trying to carve out time for deep work is a low-level anxiety around the many messages they receive and the urge to check their inbox to see if anyone needs them.

To actually engage in deep work, they not only have to create the time on their calendar, but also have to experience the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being offline. Getting more precision around what you find aversive is the first step in learning more effective ways to deal with the emotions that come up.

Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” And while it’s good to develop the capacity for solitude, our productivity problems at least can be solved with a much simpler solution: companionship.

*Shannon is an anonymized composite of several founders who found success with body doubling.

Casey Rosengren is a founder and executive coach based in New York. If you’d like to learn more about ACT and values-oriented coaching, drop him a note—or follow him on Every to get early access to workshops and retreats:

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@neil_4625 11 months ago

20 paragraphs in and the author still hasn’t clearly explained what “body doubling” is or how you do it.

Casey Rosengren 11 months ago

@neil_4625 - sorry if this wasn't clear! From the intro:

"At its most basic, it means having someone next to you—a “body double”—as you work on difficult tasks."

It means having someone next to you as you work. This could be someone pairing with you on a project, or simply sitting next to someone as you both work independently.

The middle part of the piece describes three ways to do it - working with a friend, hiring someone part-time to do live calls / meetings with you, or hiring someone full-time to work with you in an area you tend to avoid.

If you have specific questions about how to implement it in a given situation, leave a note and I'd be happy to go into further detail.

Kirill So 11 months ago

@caseyrosengren would you say its basically having an accountability buddy and have regular sessions?

Have you tried Caveday? Did it work for you?

@rpatnam 11 months ago

Love and agree with the article. Although with remote work in flux maybe the old office can suffice.

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