It’s very common for neurodivergent folks to have trouble staying attentive to a task that is not interesting to us. Even when we are trying to focus on the things we have to do, it can be hard to keep on-task.
Some of the most common concerns are issues like:
- You didn’t plan how to approach the project, so now it’s hard to find a place to start.
- You didn’t consider how much time the project will take, or have under- or overestimated how long it will take (sometimes drastically!).
- You got started and then forgot what your goal was.
- You got started and then got distracted with some other task.
- You got started and then got frustrated, and weren’t able to talk yourself into persisting with the project.
Having an activity partner or body double nearby can help with all of these situations.
What Is An Activity Partner?
You may have heard of an activity partner before; this person can also be called an activity buddy, a shadow, or a body double. The activity partner is another person whom you have with you while you perform your task.
How you use body doubling is up to you. In most cases, your partner can sit with you quietly, perhaps reading or working on their own task while you work on yours. I’ve also had success having a partner “be” with me over the phone or over video on the computer, if they’re unable to be in the same space with me. Ideally, your partner will be able to see and/or hear you for the majority of the time you’ve devoted to your project.
Sometimes, it's more helpful for a partner to be more active in supporting you through your task. They can offer physical or verbal reminders of your intentions and goals, help you talk through a problem, or split the task with you to make it go faster. This will all depend on what you are trying to do and where you need the most support. Autistic and ADHD folks can often use someone else to support executive functioning, processing information, and just to bounce ideas off of.
How Can An Activity Partner Help You?
There are a lot of different way to have an activity partner help you, either actively or passively, through a difficult project. Here are some of the biggest advantages:
1) Having another person nearby, either physically or emotionally on the phone, can help you feel less isolated and less bored as you attempt a difficult task.
2) Knowing that someone else is in the room with you can keep you more focused on what you’re meant to be doing, because you have a constant reminder in that person.
3) The body double represents your commitment to achieving your task. Moving off-task would involve justifying that decision to your double, which is often harder than justifying that decision to ourselves.
4) A body double is giving their time to you to help you with your task, so you will be more motivated to complete it.
5) Your partner can model calm, relaxation, and focus to you while working on their own task, helping you stay regulated in your body and focused on your work.
6) A body double can remind you why you chose to do this task and what the benefit is of completing it.
7) A partner can help you physically do a task that may be easy for them but challenging for you, or can help you do one portion of your task while you take on another piece.
8) If you get stuck or overwhelmed in your task and are not sure what to do next, a partner can help you bounce ideas and think through your next step, and start you off on it before returning to their own work.
Want to know if an activity partner can work for you? I made you a free workbook, How to Use A Body Double Effectively, to help you out.
Want more tips and tricks for overcoming executive dysfunction? Check out episode 25 on the Neurodiverging podcast, Executive Function Tips: Automation & the Activity Buddy.