In May, I wrote a post about accountability partners that seemed to resonate with freelancers. Several of them contacted me to ask if I knew of anyone looking for a partner and if AHCJ had a way to match people. At the moment, the organization does not.
However, there is another kind of partnership that freelancers can use to help each other stay focused and productive at work: body doubling.
What is body doubling?
Unlike accountability partners, who regularly meet for limited periods of time to listen and offer support, body doubles work online in silence via video link. Working alongside someone else, even virtually, can help keep you motivated.
Tara Haelle, AHCJ’s medical studies Health Beat leader, introduced me to the concept. Haelle, who is based in Texas, body doubles with a friend in Seattle on a regular basis.
“I have a recurring/standing Zoom link specifically for body doubling,” she said. “Funnily enough, I was reading a romance novel a while back, and the best friends in the book did the same thing.”
Haelle uses body doubling not only for her journalism work but also for everyday tasks like cooking or packing for a trip.
Freelance medical writer and editor Erin L. Boyle also uses a body double. They meet once a week over video chat on the same day, at the same time. They spend a few minutes discussing their writing, and then they get down to work.
“During this time, we work on whatever projects we currently have going,” Boyle said.
When the timer goes off, they stop writing and talk about what they just wrote. They finish by discussing what they will work on before their next meeting and hold each other accountable by checking in during the week and at the top of the next week’s call.
Benefits of body doubling
“Having time scheduled on the calendar where I know we’re meeting is invaluable,” Boyle said. “Knowing that I’m accountable to her and what I promise to do over the next week helps me stay focused.” Boyle called the meetings “a highlight of my week.”
Body doubling can help in several ways. “Often, people know what they need to do, but they have trouble getting started,” Tasha Chemel, an executive function coach, told Healthline. “Having a designated time to begin and having the visual cue of another person working can be helpful.”
It can also help people stay motivated. “Human beings are social animals,” Chemel told Healthline. “Having someone else around can make a boring or tedious task more fun.” It can also help someone avoid frustration and anxiety when faced with difficult or complex tasks, she said.
Body doubling has been popularized through ADHD self-help groups and recommended by many ADHD coaches.
“My ADHD coaching clients find that (body doubling) greatly helps their productivity,” ADHD coach Roxanne Fouché told Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). “It supports them in setting priorities, breaking down a chosen project/goal into what can be accomplished in 50 minutes, committing to a particular task or tasks, and then having needed accountability for working on — and realizing — their goals.”
Finding a body double
To find a body double, you can ask a friend or colleague. Or, if you don’t want to commit, you can hang out at a coffee shop or library where other people are writing and working.
Even though I had never heard of the term body doubling before, I apparently have been doing it for years. I belong to The New York Society Library, which has a writer’s room. I can’t make phone calls for interviews there, but I can set up my laptop when I’m in the writing stage and get inspired by the diligent writers around me.
There are also several body doubling platforms or apps that offer sessions or will match you with a partner. One caveat: I have not tried them. Most require payment but offer free trials. They include:
You can also find body doubling sessions on TikTok.