Switching to a standing Desk; thoughts

by jesse in ,

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For a 5 month update, check out: "The Standing Desk Experiment 5 Months in"

For about the past year or two, I've been working on improving my "state of being" for lack of a better term - focusing on more productivity, health, etc - I think everyone goes though this at one point or another. Various events of the past year - an incoming second kid, badly dislocating/injuring my knee and rehabilitating that, realizing that being an overweight, unhealthy geek probably wasn't in my, or my families' long term interest and seeing my little girl grow up faster than anything I've ever seen (see this excellent post by Merlin Mann - "Cranking") has triggered me to make a series of changes, the most recent of which is directly interesting to a lot of you - I've switched over to a standing desk setup at work.

I've spent a lot of time since last november going to a local Bikram Yoga studio - that, combined with a drastic change in diet has allowed me to lose a fair amount of weight, and my knee which had been bothering me got dramatically better. However - recently despite losing almost an entire teenager in weight, being more active, getting better shoes, etc, etc my knee and back started acting up again. I had been seeing article and friends talking about standing desk setups and how they helped them - but I mean, I'm a hacker, and I have an amazing chair - it's my job to sit 12+ hours a day right?

No. My job is to get things done, something I can't do if I'm miserable because of a stupid knee injury and back pain despite all of the other work (yoga, losing weight, exercise) I've been doing. So, I started doing a lot of research. Interesting (or fortuitously enough) around this same time an article in the New York Time "Stand Up While you Read This" came out that really made me ask myself if maybe there was a better way. I also found out that sitting with my knees bent/in a chair was contributing to how inflamed and painful my injured knee was. Time for a change.

Throughout the years I've seen people in various jobs have standing rigs - I always sort of laughed and wandered back to the comfort of my comfy chair - but now, as of last week - I've joined the league of "odd people" standing there at hacked together standing desk. I'm always one to experiment so I absconded with a table from a nearby lunchroom and a monitor stand it really hack the basics together.

The important thing was ergonomics: The monitor should be right at eye height (or just below) and the keyboard should allow my elbows to be at a 90 degree angle, or right thereabouts. Luckily, I have comfy shoes thanks to Superfeet insoles I have to wear because I unreasonably obey everything my Dr. says. All told it took me about 10 minutes to set everything up and start rocking the new setup.

I'm pleased to say that after starting the experiment Monday morning at 9am, I pushed through the entire week, only sitting about 1.5 hours in total during the workday, and without any ill effects. In actuality, I found that certain things immediately improved. For the first few days my feet and my knees and my back were bothering me, which is to be expected. You don't go from rocking a chair 8+ hours a day to standing and typing without some pain. The surprising bit of pain came from my shoulders/arms/neck - apparently I had grown more accustomed to resting my elbows on my armrests and desks then I had realized. Out of all the other minor aches and pains - these were the worst by far.

On the positive side - I noticed (as did my lovely wife) that my posture immediately got better. I feel like I gained two inches in height this week alone! Also, my energy levels increased almost immediately - I felt less lethargic, I didn't suffer from the post lunch "nap attack", all in all I felt a lot more active and energized. I also felt that I was more engaged in the tasks I was working on - I was less distracted, more zero'ed in on each chunk of work I was banging on, That said - for the first few days, there were times all I could think about were my feet (discomfort) and the fact I was standing.

In order to resolve the mild discomfort, I've acquired a padded "anti-fatigue" mat designed for people who work (standing) in kitchens all day, which I'll throw into the mix next week to see if it helps me adapt into this. I'm taking the "kill the habit with fire" approach - most people I know or know of who use standing setups tend to swap between standing and sitting for various periods throughout the day however I'm working on breaking myself in to just standing for prolonged periods first before I "spoil" myself by sitting.

Ultimately - the result of the week 1 experiment is:

  • Knee pain: Greatly reduced. In fact, my injured knee feels great, except when I sit with it bent for an extended period of time, such as at home.
  • Greater focus: I feel more deeply engaged in the tasks that I'm working on.
  • More active: I joked about this on twitter, but the fact is, is that I'm not standing still - I'm constantly moving/fidgeting/etc. I feel more active overall, and it shows. I also find myself dancing a little bit when working and listening to good music. Much to the amusement of my wife and coworkers.
  • More social: My officemates may hate this part, but given I'm "already up" - rather then send an email, or IM, it's much easier for me to just go over and talk to them, which means I'm moving even more.
  • Improved posture: My posture improved nearly overnight. Shoulders back, standing up straight. It feels great.
  • Improved Yoga: I'm able to hold / go into certain stances that I could not before, I think this is due to posture/back improvements as well as better balance. There a stance I haven't been able to pull off (I couldn't balance/finalize the pose) for some time which I was able to this week - toe stand, I'm pretty jazzed.
  • RSI: Most of the time (when I'm not on a laptop) I use a split ergonomic keyboard and a trackball due to RSI - even with those, long periods in front of the machine can cause some discomfort. Standing seems to have improved my posture/ergonomics enough that it stopped bothering me.

The next step is to consider/request an actual standing desk setup that isn't a hack - right now my stolen kitchen table is a bit small and wobbly, which means that when I really get typing the monitor starts dancing along with me. The main adjustable desk options I've found are:

Of these, I think the Geekdesk is the most straightforward, and the one I've heard the most positive reviews about. I have to say - as someone using a Mac Pro, the attachments that the Anthro series offers (tower cradles, etc) are very, very attractive. As it is, with the Geekdesk I think I would need some longer DVI/USB cables and to set the tower on the floor (I know - first world problems, eh?).

Overall - the experiment seems to be going well. I'm looking forward to seeing how week two pans out - I'm going to keep myself in the "break in/don't relent" phase until standing is the defacto method my body wants to use to work. After that I think it'll be "safe" to chill in a chair every so often. I'm interested in hearing about your experiences and recommendations as well, so drop me a comment or email and let me know if you've tried this out/do it and have any recommendations.

For additional reading, see:

And here is the hacker news link for this post.

And finally, here's the obligatory picture of me rocking the setup:

Rocking the setup


For a 5 month update, check out: "The Standing Desk Experiment 5 Months in"