Standing desk: A 1-year retrospective

In February, 2014, I started working >50% at a proper standing desk at my house. In the year prior, I occasionally worked at a make-shift standing desk in my kitchen, which comprised standing at the island and resting my laptop on a flimsy Disney Princess art tray. The ergonomics were obviously terrible, so I only did that for a short spell.

I had become enamored with the $22 standing desk and started planning my own. The final component was a proper monitor, which my employer provided in February. I followed the instructions to build the monitor / keyboard stand, and in no time I was in business.

Note: while the research on the negative effects of sitting all day is pretty convincing, I could not find much actual evidence that standing all day is healthy, either. Anecdotally it seems that at best, standing mitigates some of the problems associated with sitting all day, but there may be downsides, as well.

 

home_office

 

Retrospective

  1. A mat is essential. I bought this one for $50 bucks, and it’s served well. At some point I may consider a higher-quality mat of the type hairdressers use, which generally cost hundreds of dollars
  2. Using a wood(ish) stand on a glass desk immediately surfaced (bad pun) a problem: the monitor stand would slip around on the glass desk, sometimes nearly falling off. My wife fixed this with a simple $2 solution: anti-slip furniture pads, like these. After sticking those to the bottom of the stand, it hasn’t budged
  3. I move around, a lot. I stretch, I pace around the house, both inside and out. I do not stand still for hours at a time
  4. Although I’ve incentivized standing by making it the only way I can conveniently use the Thunderbolt monitor, if I am tired or want to sit, I have no problem unplugging from the monitor and sitting. In fact, I have a very comfortable chair just a few feet away, and if my body says sit, I sit
  5. A fair bit of my day is spent on phone calls and teleconference meetings where I don’t need to be in front of a large screen. I sometimes sit or walk during those times, such that my standing time is for actual work. In other words, I optimize my standing time for work where I’ll benefit from the large monitor
  6. I stand less in the summer, because I work outside at least half a day on most days. I tend to work outside till noon, take a bike ride, then come inside and stand for the afternoon when it’s uncomfortably hot outside
  7. Working from home can be isolating, and so positioning my desk to face a large bank of windows works wonders. I am constantly surrounded by natural light
  8. On the advice of a twitter friend, I am trying out compression socks to help alleviate the inevitable fatigue on the calves and ankles. I’m not wearing them every day, but I have noticed that my legs feel better in them. Psychological, perhaps. I’m going to experiment with different types of compression socks, as well

As for how it’s affected my health, I frankly can’t say. Despite standing for a year and riding my bike nearly year round now, including training for and completing 2 full centuries, I didn’t experience “weight loss for free.” Nor can I say that I focus better now, probably because for me focus while working remotely has never been a problem. Perhaps the most noticeable effect is simply that I have no problem standing for 6-8 hours a day. If the practical benefit of standing for a year is getting better at standing, I’ll take it.

Making it habitual

Going from full-time sitting to part-time standing is hard. To make it stick — to make it a habit — I had to make the reward of standing immediate and meaningful, not just the hope of potential health benefits that are still not definitive. The keys for me, mentioned above but emphasized here, were:

  1. If I stand, I get to use a large monitor; if I sit, I am stuck with a 13″ screen
  2. Position the desk so that I am always looking out a window and not at a wall

I realize that both of those are a result of incredible privilege. I think I could’ve made it stick without those, but it would have required a lot more grit and willpower, for me.

I’m glad I started standing, I’m proud I stuck with it, and I’m certain I’ll keep doing it. I’ve gotten to the point where standing for work is just… the way I work now.

2 thoughts on “Standing desk: A 1-year retrospective

  1. I just passed the 4 month mark with my standing desk and honestly I could probably ditch it and go back to the way my office was before. I switch between standing and using my regular office chair that I bought an extended pneumatic cylinder for to bring it up to the correct height. Like you I stand for about 50% of each day and, like you, I haven’t seen a drastic weight loss (although I’m also not training or doing much in the way of physical activity right now because of the weather).

    Unlike you, I can’t take being near a Window. I like my coding environment darkened with the exception of some background lighting behind my Thunderbolt monitors.

    Understanding that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, I read some research a couple weeks ago that suggested using a regular sitting desk all day is not worse for your health as long as you get up out of the chair and at least stretch every 20 minutes. For most people that would be sufficient but for those of us that write code for a living, that 20 minute rule could be problematic if it interrupted your “flow” as you’re deep into solving a problem.

  2. Perhaps next step is a geekdesk. Helps with alternating between standing and sitting. I got one recently. Works pretty good.

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