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Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Switching to a Standing Desk

About a month ago I decided to try working at a standing desk. Four trashcans, two shelves, and several books later, I created this:

Despite its humble appearance, it functioned beautifully. It's since been replaced by an honest, actual adjustable-height desk, and I'm still standing and liking it a lot.

So why did I do this? This whole idea of standing while working has gotten a lot of talk recently, most prominently in the New York Times article Stand Up While You Read This. This blog post by Jesse Noller and Episode 21 of Build and Analyze finally convinced me to give it a shot.

Here what I was hoping to get out of it:

  • Better posture. Like many people, I tend to slouch in my chair. I find it easier to keep better posture while standing.
  • More active. The thing about standing at a desk is that I'm not just standing -- I'm fidgeting, stepping back and forth, and generally moving around. This makes me...
  • More alert. I tend to get sleepy after lunch. Having to keep myself upright without the aid of a chair counteracts that. It keeps me on task.
  • Respect(?) When people first come across you using your standing desk, they give you an expression that could either be respect or what's-up-with-that-dude wariness (I can never tell).

My initial goal was to stand nonstop all day. During my two weeks with the nonadjustable desk, that's all I could do. It was a good way to get over the initial habit-building hump, but let's just say that by the end of the day, my feet were ... tired.

Since I've gotten the adjustable desk, I've settled into a 2/3 standing, 1/3 sitting routine. Much of what I read recommended just powering through the pain until it gets better, but I find that simply breaking up the standing with an couple of hours of sitting in the middle of the day helps enormously.

So, if you want to get started, here's what I recommend:

Rig something on top of your existing desk. It's cheap and easy (and fun!). I used parts scavenged from around the office. Some have used soft drink cans. Adjustable desks are expensive so you want to make sure that you'll actually use it before shelling out.

As for actually making it a habit, there are two philosophical camps out there. The first camp says that humans are evolved to walk around barefoot and that any pain you experience is just your lazy body getting readjusted to its true evolutionary mode of being. The other camp recommends getting good insoles and a stress mat, and generally working your way into the whole standing routine.

I probably fall more in the second camp, but I haven't bought anything special. I simply wear my normal shoes and sit down when it starts to hurt. Seems to work for me.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.