Three Months at a Standing Desk, 5 Lessons Learned

Aug 9 2012

For the last three months I have been using a standing desk. Time to share the results.

I am in reasonably good shape, and I don't have any clinical back, shoulder or leg problems. But even with my high-ergonomics desk chair, foot rest, and fastidiously arranged workstation setup, a day in a traditional desk left my lower back and shoulders sore. At the suggestion of my brother, I tried a standing desk.

My desk is composed from various Ikea pieces and parts along with some vintage 1970's philosophy journals (great for stacking!). I didn't want to go too elaborate until I was sure the standing desk would work for me.

I use two computers at my standing desk. One has a 13" display, and the other has a 30" display. This has taken some adjustment.

Here are five things I've learned in the last few months. <!--break-->

1. Shoes and stools: Lessons from the first two weeks

I won't lie, the first two weeks were tough. The conversion from sitting for 8 hours to standing for most of 8 hours is a challenge. But I learned two important things:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. For me, these are running shoes with plenty of support.
  2. Keep a stool close at hand. The first few weeks, I used the stool quite a bit. I was surprised the other day to realize that I'd gone a full day without using it. Most days, I use it intermittently.

2. I move around a lot

At the standing desk, I don't just "stand". At the outset, I imagined myself standing stalk still. But the opposite is the case. I've realized that I reposition myself frequently, shifting weight from one foot to another, changing stances, or just taking a few steps from one side to the other. Most of the time, this is done unconsciously.

I don't know why this seemed so surprising a discovery to me. After all, when I sat in a chair I changed postures frequently, too.

3. I do feel better

I've noticed three benefits from the standing desk:

  1. My back and shoulders are no longer tight and sore at the end of a day.
  2. I am losing weight. I already work out, and I am not a big guy to begin with. But I've gone down a waist size since I switched to a standing desk.
  3. My overall energy level, even at the end of the day is… higher? I expected to be tired, but typically the first thing I want to do when I'm done with work is take a walk.

4. Continuous adjustments

I've changed the configuration of my standing desk probably six times over the course of two months. I've done a major reconfiguration twice. Mostly, the adjustments come in the form of raising or lowering keyboards and mice. The big 30" monitor is also a difficult to get right. I want my neck to feel unstressed when looking at the most common section of the screen. (Some advice I've seen seems to assume that the top of the screen is this place. For me, it's the middle third.)

5. Hardware limitations

The biggest frustration I've experienced has come from the tools at my disposal.

  • I've had to cobble together my own desk, which is a pain.
  • Peripherals like headsets have cord lengths that are not accommodating when you are standing a few feet from the computer.
  • It's rare to find height-adjusting monitor stands and such. Most of those adjust about four inches, rather than a more accommodating 8" or 12".

Will I keep it?

Last week I spent an entire week sitting (I was at another office for the week). It was uncomfortable. I didn't like it.

So it seems that I will stick with the standing desk for the foreseeable future. Sure, on occasion I'll plunk myself down and work at a desk. But in my daily writing-and-programming life, I'll keep on my feet.