After Three Months of Using a Standing Desk…

a phone-quality photo of my standing desk setup

After three months of using a standing desk, I came to a realization:

I’m a lazy bastard who likes to sit down while writing.

I switched over to a standing desk mostly because, even in a great chair, sitting all day is uncomfortable. Plus, according to reams of research, sitting is hell on your health (Here’s a convenient if sensational infographic on the dangers of sitting)

Proponents state that standing desks will help you with your focus, attention, energy levels, and weight loss. After three months, I can say that they’re mostly correct. When I could actually bring myself to use the standing desk, I felt better than if I had sat for the same length of time. Back, butt, and leg fatigue was no longer an issue. And even though I wasn’t trying, I lost five pounds during the first month.

The problem was that I simply avoided my desk altogether. Almost all the writing I’ve done over the past few months I did while kicking back in a recliner, using either laptop or legal pad. This is okay, but I think I prefer hunching over a flat, open workspace, good posture be damned.

What I liked about the standing desk

The standing desk definitely has its benefits. Humans were made to walk. Walking will even improve your cognitive function. We’re not meant to sit in a chair and gaze at a glowing screen for hours at a time. The standing desk mostly eliminates the problems associated with sedentary knowledge work. A few other things I found during my three month standing desk experiment:

  • I could work longer with less fatigue, but as I said, I found myself avoiding work altogether. Two steps forward, two steps back.
  • Because of the two-tiered setup, I could kind of sit down and work (though it felt like sitting in the front row at a movie theater)
  • Extra storage on the lower level meant less crap on my desk.
  • I was less likely to engage in pointless websurfing.

Problems with my standing desk setup

Besides the weird aversion I developed to using the standing desk, I had a few other problems with my setup.

  • Rickety hillbilly engineering. I can’t afford a geekdesk right now, so I placed a scrounged tabletop upon two plastic bins which sat on my usual desk (an old kitchen table). I nearly tipped the desk over a couple times by leaning on it. The result would’ve been an expensive disaster.
  • Forced wearing of shoes. With the standing desk, an anti-fatigue mat and good shoes are vital to preventing leg pain. Unfortunately, I love being barefoot (I’m from Appalachia. I can’t help it).
  • Less work space. Because I used the materials I had on hand, a weird cut in the tabletop decreased the size of my work surface.

How I could make the standing desk work

For now, I’m back to an old school sitting desk, but I have plans to work out some kind of DIY solution. Right now, I’m thinking I could

  • Build something, preferably with the option to raise and lower the work surface.
  • Use a (non-swivel) bar stool. This seems like a good option, but could result in inadvertent drinking.
  • Use the same setup and wear platform shoes or stand on a pile of carpets (not likely).

Should you use a standing desk?

I say give it a shot, especially if you find sitting in a chair all day makes your back, butt, and legs howl like a drunken coyote in heat.

The cheapest and easiest way to experiment with a standing desk setup is to place a large flat-topped storage bin on your desk or kitchen table. The work surface should be about even with your belly button, your arms bent about 90 degrees at the elbow.

A few things to note:

  • Look for ways to alternate between sitting and standing. As with most other things, the middle path is usually the most pleasant.
  • For people who’ve always sat, you’ll probably experience new pains during the first few days. They’ll probably subside. (I’m not a doctor. Just advice. Don’t sue me. Thanks).
  • With a standing setup, anti-fatigue mats are worth their weight in cheese.

If the experiment goes well, you could purchase a Geekdesk, order a custom desk, order an affordable standing desk from Amazon, convert your desk with an Ergo-Stand, or buy an adjustable height desk frame. 

 

More Standing Desk Resources:

One gal’s experience switching to a standing desk

I’m not the only one who’s dissatisfied with his standing desk.

Here’s a DIY elevated standing desk platform

3D Model of the standing desk platform

A full-on DIY standing desk setup

This setup looks a little precarious:

 Standing vs. sitting calorie burn calculator

Filed under: decidedly first-world problems?

 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://enjoyallthings.com/ Angela Geise

    I had to use a standing desk while recovering from a back injury. It helped with pain but I felt awkward standing while working instead of sitting. I found myself wandering away from my desk more often. Alternatively when I sit at my computer all day I end up mindlessly surfing occasionally. I guess each way, sitting or standing, has it’s ups and downs and we humans find ways to get distracted and procrastinate either way.

  • http://www.treverclark.com Trever Clark

    Dude, I love this. I get so sick of sitting in front of a screen all day. Will definitely be giving this a go, at least as an experiment. Kind of worried about having the same issues as you, with avoiding the desk, but still worth a shot.

  • http://www.treverclark.com Trever Clark

    Dude, I love this. I get so sick of sitting in front of a screen all day. Will definitely be giving this a go, at least as an experiment. Kind of worried about having the same issues as you, with avoiding the desk, but still worth a shot.

  • Pingback: Article: After Three Months of Using a Standing Desk Happenchance « Artifacts

  • http://www.activetheoryinc.com Alex Gourley

    Having made the switch over the last few months – I have definitely found that standing for 4 hours, lunch, then 4 hours, is definitely too much. 

    I have my keyboard/monitor/mouse/charger on the standing desk and make that my primary station. However when I need to sit I’ll disconnect the laptop and move to chair/desk setup. Or as you do, a couch. Or maybe a cafe. 

  • Jose

    I work standing up all day long in front of a computer.

    People have to understand a few thing before trying:

    1)Acknowledge that you have years of training sitting down, maybe since you went to school. I have worked as children teacher so believe me, it is not a natural thing, kids can’t stay sit down for too long, but eventually (after years of training they get used to it. All your muscles and joints are prepared for sitting down for hours , you need to start developing muscles you have atrophied, and this takes some time (months or years).

    2) Never try to go standing all day from scratch, start slowly. Buy a cheap (IKEA has several) barstool so you can sit from time to time when you feel like it. You will notice this “sitting” is different to sitting down, as you could be straight and comfortable at the same time.

    3) Put your base(for keyboard) at a comfortable position and your computer at your eye level, so you don’t bend. This is so important. I have a computer desk with a file cabinet over it(IKEA again). It works like a charm as I’m two meters high and is extremely stable. If you are good with wood you can make it yourself,buying parts from IKEA(you could design it using standard wood boards and have them cut, drilled, whatever for you really fast and cheap) I’m certain in South Korea you could find somebody that could make it for you for cheap. What you have done screams “WARNING !!:THIS EXPENSIVE STUFF IS GOING TO FALL. At least buy something solid with straight corners and no cantilever, that act as levers.

    4) I work barefoot over a carpet-rug. I do not understand why you need shoes at all. Maybe you need to focus when you are putting your weight and change your body posture( Read: “8 Steps to a pain free back”, by Esther Gokhale), and put more weight on your heel as we are designed for(shoes again has made some feet muscles to atrophy). Again this takes time.

  • http://twitter.com/apinstein Alan Pinstein

    I just bought an Ergotron Workfit-S sit-stand desk attachment a few weeks ago and it’s been great. At $400 it’s much cheaper than a complete desk and it’s also easy to add on or move around if you want to change your office setup. Check it out here: http://www.ergotron.com/SplashPages/ExploreWorkFitS/tabid/640/Default.aspx

    It’s really well made and I expect it to last a long time.

    I’d recommend the larger keyboard tray, which I ended up ordering afterwards.

  • http://www.kelvinism.com Kelvin Nicholson

    I made a treadmill desk – about $10 worth of stuff (not including the treadmill). Easy.

    http://www.kelvinism.com/blog/australia/build-treadmill-desk-985/

  • http://joevennix.com Joe Vennix

    A little off topic, but how long have you had a Fender Rhodes, and how do you like it? I am extremely jealous.

  • http://twitter.com/kowboykoder Cowboy Coder

    The right way is to be lying flat on your belly! That way you avoid the dangers of sitting.

  • Anonymous

    I switched to a standing desk a month ago, and I’m not going back. I bolted wood to the wall to make a really sturdy support, and apart from it being too high at first (your belly-button tip is spot on) I think that makes all the difference.

    I change stance a lot (unconsciously) which is good, and because it’s sturdy, I can slouch on my elbows when I don’t need to type. I have a swivel barstool that isn’t idea, but is uncomfortable enough that I get off it again after a while – I probably spend 25% of my time on it. I wear slippers, and it’s more my legs than feet that hurt, but I’m hoping that they’ll get used to it over time.

    If you have no discipline though, don’t bother. It is harder work for your body, but that is the whole point. If I left it up to my body, it would work sitting down – actually probably lying down. And it skip the work bit too.

  • Anonymous

    I tried a standing desk briefly – but after three decades of sitting, I discovered that standing was a real workout for my leg muscles.  After two days I mostly went back to sitting, but as I have things set up so that I simply have to pivot my monitors around and then pass my keyboard through to the standing desk, I’ve left things open for easy switching.

    I put playroom rubber padding on the floor and was fine barefoot, incidentally.  No shoes required.  My feet weren’t getting tired nearly as quickly as my front upper thighs, just above the knees.

    My intuition is that it was great for my health, it made me much more able to alternate between computer work and non-computer work (e.g. work on the house I’m renovating), and I had the same experience, that I did less random surfing.  When I wanted to take a break, I left the desk instead of having that block against standing up that leads to surfing.

    However, all those guys who say they tried a standing desk and just never went back – I figure they’re in their 20′s, not their 40′s.  I am definitely needing to build up to standing all the time.

  • http://lorafrost.com Lora Frost

    Having back and neck pain from a few old injuries I have also had to be creative in how I work. However because of my knee issues, a standing desk isn’t for me.

    When I worked in an office job I sat on a pilates ball, and because it forces you to sit in a correct posture I started to develop some rock hard abs. Downside, the plastic material made my ass sweat :) Plus side, you could stretch out your back anytime you needed.

    There are also kneeling chairs, but I didn’t jive with them.

    I ended up getting a fully adjustable mesh back and bottom chair (there are many kinds that just have the mesh on the back, and having tried a ton of different kinds, the one with the mesh on the bottom and the top is the most kind to my body).

    It has been the best investment I have made in my work space. I get intense headaches when I am forced to sit in an uncomfortable chair for too long. Because I do not like being “confined” to one position I do still find myself, standing for short periods of time and moving to my laptop while sitting on the couch.

  • Anonymous

    I picked the Rhodes up for $40 at a flea market about three years ago and haven’t looked back :) 

  • Anonymous

    How’s that working for you, Cowboy? 

  • Anonymous

    Nice, Kelvin. I actually sold an old treadmill last summer and kind of wishing I hadn’t. So it goes. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great comment, Jose. Yeah, my setup was impromptu and I learned pretty quick not to lean on anything. I like the file cabinet idea. As for shoes, my office has a concrete floor. Even with anti-fatigue mats and carpet, being barefoot is rough. 
    Definitely agree about building up the standing muscles. After years of being a chair jockey, you can’t expect to  suddenly be able to stand all day. 

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, Alex. Being able to switch between standing/reclining is a luxury! 

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Angela, I had the same ‘wandering away from the desk’ problem, but found it was far less severe than the sitting+surfing problem. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s worth it. If your setup sucks just a little less than mine did, you’ll probably find it useful. As a couple other commenter have said, try and figure out how you can alternate between standing, sitting, and reclining. Floating, too, if you have a magic carpet. 

  • Anonymous

    Alan, that’s a cool looking product for a computer setup. I wonder if someone could attach a larger work surface to the keyboard tray. 

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t tried the pilates/yoga ball, but I feel like that would be way too low for me. The mesh back chair sounds good. The Aeron chair I think has a mesh back and bottom, and people who have them seem to dig them. 

  • Anonymous

    I might try the playroom padding. I’ve always suspected in the back of my mind I’d end up in a rubber room… but in all serious, the ‘less mindless surfing’ thing was a big deal for me, like a sudden shift. There must be something about standing up that tells our brain ‘hey, it’s time to work.’ 

    Good luck as you condition yourself to stand. 

  • Anonymous

    For me, when my body works hard, my mind does as well. Like you, the physical discipline is what appealed to me, and after a couple days of chair jockeying, I’m ready to design a new standing/sitting setup. 

    As an aside, I think Truman Capote wrote while laying down (and drinking martinis). 

  • http://twitter.com/judy_mac Judy MacDonald

    In another lifetime when I was an engineer had tall cubicle counters and a tall drafting chair which was great because you could sit or stand. When putting together my home office I wanted to create the same setup, but cheaply. Finally decided to buy a pub table which looks way cooler in my office than a standing desk.

    Anti-fatigue mats are a wonderful suggestion–thanks!

  • http://theguruquest.com/ Tom

    That information about sitting down all day is rather worrying. I do find that if I’m in a rush and need to get a lot done, then sitting rather than standing makes me work much more efficiently and almost eliminates procrastination.

    I’ve been looking into standing desks but have always been put off by the prices, so I will consider a low-tech solution like yours.

  • Anonymous

    For me, sitting helps me work more efficiently to a point, but once I reach that point, I tend to open reddit and lose an hour or two ;)

  • http://theguruquest.com/ Tom

    Oops, that was meant to read ‘Standing rather than sitting makes me more efficient’. Interesting point though; for certain work I have to be sitting down, for example when it comes to thoughtful, and/or introspective writing, but for run-of-the-mill tasks, standing is quite efficient.

    For what tasks do you find the standing desk better? Is it the more mundane stuff?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I liked the standing desk for the more mundane stuff like design tweaks, clearing the inbox, etc. 

  • http://www.heightadjustabledeskadvice.com Duncan MacIntyre

    Great tip about using your belly button as good indicator for the correct work surface height for standing.

    And Jose’s points about the changes involved in standing to work after sitting for years are excellent. It takes time to get used to it.

  • http://www.markmarshall.com Mark

    I just started using one last week.  So far, so good. http://tumblr.com/xtn34wdd2h

  • Pingback: Outstanding: A Look at The Standing Desk Movement

  • Pingback: 2011 in Review — Happenchance

  • Pingback: Standing desk, 6 months later | jcarter.ca

  • Kris

    Hi. I have only been doing this for three days, but I am enjoying it. I haven’t tried creative writing from this setup yet, however. Advice: Try standing on a step aerobics platform. You can get them cheap at Target or cheaper on Craigslist. I take the risers off and use just the lowest platform setting. The platform has give, which means significantly less leg and foot pain, and you can hang off it to do heel raises. You can also bounce around a bit and shift weight without any impact injuries. As for shoes — I wear rubber soled indoor clogs from Merrill and they’re OK. For pronating people with flatter feet, better arch support might help. My standup desk, for the record, is me standing at a built-in wet bar. My wireless keyboard and mouse are on a pile of hardcover books and my laptop is on an empty box. It’s ugly and temporary (until I can afford a treadmill desk setup), but it works. As a bonus, it’s facing the TV, so my aimless web surfing time can be repurposed as standing/shimmying/typing/semi-watching time.

    As for the benefits, it’s too early to see if there’s weight loss, but I have had a lot more energy and I feel less resentment about going to work — less tethered to the spot. I actually felt excited about returning to work after lunch because I wanted to do some more standing. I’ve been more productive, my mind seems to work faster, and I procrastinate less. I feel like this is a huge boost to my efficiency, and I enjoy the times that I sit down to relax because I know I’ve earned them.

  • Paulette

    to combat tired legs and feet – invest in an “anti-fatigue mat”. You can find them in home goods area (think kitchen rugs) at discount stores or nicer stores like Kohls.