Standing for Work

In the last two months or so, I’ve been working a different way when I am at my desk computer at home. On July 7, I converted my desk from a traditional desk into one where I am standing up while I work. I had been a bit curious about standing for a while, owing it to a couple of people I know who had tried it out. They claimed that there were a lot of advantages to working while standing, not the least of which was that they felt more productive than they were when sitting down all day.

After reading their accounts, I was thinking in the back of my mind that I had somehow worked out the perfect system for my desk where it would be easy and free for me to try out this new form of working. When I originally moved to the Twin Cities for the beginning of grad school, I needed a desk, and somehow got it into my head that it would be a very cool thing to have a massive work area to work with. Someone introduced me to the idea of wire shelving, and I eventually put two and two together and acquired with great effort a 3 foot by 5 foot sturdy wire shelf, which I covered with a Lexan sheet and use to this day as my main work area. (Diana uses a second one - incidentally at the time I had to buy them in pairs.) One of the great advantages of using a wire shelf as a desk is that you can adjust it to be as low or as high as you want, in one inch increments. This meant that for the majority of the time that I was working or playing on the computer – something that takes a significant portion of my life – that I was sitting at exactly the right height for ergonomic purposes. It also meant that I could do this transition without too much trouble:

I moved the main desk from 25 inches off the ground to 40 inches. It wasn’t exactly as simple as pushing a button, which some more fancy standing desks use in order to make it easy to sit for some periods of time as well, but I figured that if I was going to give it a try, I should really go all in and try to stand all the time. I still had a sitting desk at my day job, so it wasn’t going to be all the time I was standing.

Directly after the transition, the first thing that I noticed was that I was a little more attentive, and was just a little more comfortable. This was despite the fact that I had miscalculated the height which should be comfortable by about a third of a foot, which meant that I was standing with a wide stance in order to be the right level to type and look directly at the screen. I moved my chair to the other side of the room and didn’t even look back, starting on work right away. It was refreshing to be standing. I also felt that I had a better handle of the situation for some reason. I felt pretty productive that first night, but got tired pretty quick and retreated to the living room and my laptop on the cumfy couch.

I tried it out for the majority of a month, working at least an hour a day at the standing desk every night, for most of my thesis work and a bit of other work as well. When I am working at the standing desk, I am much more likely to do a little bounce to the music that I’m listening to, which I think will probably be good for me in the long run - I’m not really standing statically and stoic. Even when I am not listening to anything, I feel like I am more active than when I am sitting because I will shift from one foot to the other, just to even out the weight or get a little more comfortable. When I am in a chair, I am content to just get comfortable and sit there for a while, but when I am standing, I seem to be unconsciously vigilant about how comfortable I am at each given moment, and adjusting to make it that much easier to work.

After about a month, I remedied the situation of the four inches suboptimal placement of the original desk, and it just became more comfortable than it was before, and I can stand there for much longer periods of time. When I had to wide-stance in order to work there, it wasn’t bad but it was still somewhat uncomfortable, and now I can just walk right up to the desk and start typing on my computer. I’ve played games for hours on end there with no trouble at all, and I will spend a significant period of my day standing there working when I can.

One of the side benefits that I haven’t heard people write about before is that when I do decide to sit down, it’s a much more relaxing experience now. In the same way that cutting out a lot of sugary sweets from your diet makes the chocolate cake that you eat on your birthday that much more tasty, standing for most of your work makes it just that much more relaxing to sit your ass down on a cushioned couch and watch some great TV.

So I’m two months into the experiment, and I feel confident saying that it’s been a success so far. I would recommend trying standing for anyone who can wrangle a way to get their work space up to that level. I think that it’s definitely not for everyone, and there are still a few bad things about it (I think that I need to get a standing mat now), but the advantages in productive work and just general active feeling for me have been great.