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My Standing Desk Experiment

I’m not sure where I first heard about standing desks. It was probably about a year ago in some online article, but it didn’t have much of an impact at the time. Since then, the benefits of standing (or rather, the dangers of sitting down for prolonged periods of time) has been appearing in the news more often. Some people even went as far as setting up treadmill desks!

Initially I dismissed it for me because I’m reasonably active: I either run or bike 5 or 6 days per week, and the rest of the days I go for a walk around the neighborhood. It was the combination of increased studies on the effects of sitting, some people in my social circle finally making the jump and raving about it, and me developing some problems in a hamstring that finally made me consider it more seriously. And trust me, if you’re a cyclist or a runner, the last thing you want to have is hamstring problems.

It turns out that my 5-mile morning runs weren’t making me immune to the dangers of sitting. It’s not how much exercise you get per day, but how long do you sit on a chair continuously. And no, buying an fancy, expensive chair might help with your back, but it’s not going to do one bit of good with all the other problems.

One of the many advantages of working from home is that I can try weird things that would be much more difficult in a regular workplace. I also have a track history of liking to experiment on myself [1], so it didn’t take much convincing to give this a try.

After some initial research, it appeared that the way to go was an adjustable-height desk. That way you can work standing, but you still have the flexibility to sit down whenever you need to. I also found out that apparently this is not all that uncommon in Europe. The only drawback is that adjustable standing desks are not easily available here in the US, and the ones that are out there are aimed at offices and big companies, with matching eye-popping price tags. Even though Flower Garden continues to do well, I wasn’t quite ready to plop down several thousand dollars on something I might end up hating.

standing_1.jpgSo I decided to start cheap and work my way up from the bottom. First I had to decide if I even liked this whole working-while-standing thing. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to type! I thought about raising my desk with cinder blocks, but I would have to raise a lot and would make it very unstable. So instead, I created four stacks of books on top of my desk and put a board on top. Then I was able to put the keyboard, computer, and monitor on the board and give that a try.

Let me tell you: It was weird.

At first I didn’t know how to type. My fingers were constantly off to the side. It turns out my initial height was too low. You really want to have the keyboard at a height that puts a 90 degree bend on your elbows. That’s what they say about the sitting position, but somehow I can manage to have less. However, standing, I really needed that height.

Even once I adjust the height, the first day was kind of rough. After an hour, I was definitely feeling it in my feet. I think I did half a day the first day and I felt totally exhausted. All that running wasn’t helping that much standing at my desk apparently.

Fortunately things got better very quickly. In a few days, I was able to work for hours without much problem. I would find myself constantly shifting my weight between my feet and moving around a little bit. I was definitely liking that whole standing thing.

standing_2.jpgAt this point I decided that the stack of books was too annoying, but I wasn’t quite ready for an expensive desk. So I picked up a Fredrik Ikea desk from Craigslist for $50. The nice thing about this desk is that it can be assembled so the top of the desk is almost at any height. You can’t change it on the fly, but at least it serves as a standing desk.

Finally I was able to work standing and be comfortable at the same time now that I had space for more than a mug along with the keyboard. The extra shelves on the desk were also very handy (one over the table top and one underneath).

After spending a couple of weeks with the desk, I decided that I definitely liked standing and it was something I wanted to continue doing long term. I felt more focused while standing, and my productivity was up. An unexpected side benefit was that when someone else comes into the room, they can walk right up to the desk and we can look at the monitor together, or look at some papers, much more easily than if it was a sitting desk.

However, it was also clear that I needed to switch things up a bit. Spending the whole day standing continued to be pretty tough on my feet, and it even made it so I didn’t want to work any longer than I had to. I really had to combine the standing with some hours of sitting down, which is probably a healthier thing to do anyway.

At this point I had two options: I could go full out and get a motorized adjustable desk, or I could get an adjustable draft chair which are tall enough to sit comfortably at a standing-height desk. Since I already had a nice office chair, and the Ikea desk was a bit wobbly set up like that, I decided to spend the money on the motorized desk.

Again, after a bunch of research, it seemed that one of the best options was to order a (very appropriately named), GeekDesk online. They have them in two sizes, Classic and Mini. It turns out I wanted something more in the middle (around 60″ wide), so I ended up ordering the Mini frame and a desk top from Ikea for $80. It wasn’t cheap, but it was way cheaper than the alternatives and all the reviews and experiences I read were very positive.

It arrived very quickly and it was a breeze to assemble. I did have a scary moment that it looked like one of the wheels didn’t fit in the metal opening, but I eventually managed to coerce it. Hopefully this kind of manufacturing problems aren’t common.


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I can only describe the final setup with one word: Awesome. The desk isn’t wobbly at all, and it takes just a few seconds to change heights with the push of a button. Not just that, but I can fine tune the height at any moment in tiny increments. And in the sitting position, I can put it low enough to make typing very comfortable (most desks are set up too high to type really comfortably for me).

My daily work routine has settled into working standing in the mornings, sitting for an hour or so after lunch, standing all afternoon, and then sitting in the evening I have have to do some work. With the wonderful weather here in Southern California, I’ll often take my sitting work time outside in the back patio in the shade. So all in all, I probably spend one or two hours sitting down at the desk.

Yes, it was a significant amount of money, but it’s something I’m using every day and it improves both my productivity and my health. Definitely worth it.

Standing desks have one downside though. This situation happens embarrassingly often. Good thing I work home alone!

[1] A few years ago I gave polyphasic sleep a try. It was actually really great for gaining extra hours, but eventually I gave it up because I was constantly out of sync with the rest of the world. I’d do it again if I were spending months alone in a research station in the Antarctica.

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.

  • New blog post: My Standing Desk Experiment http://gamesfromwithin.com/my-standing-d… #idevblogaday Phew! Better late than never! 🙂

    • TorontoJoe

      @SnappyTouch Nice post 🙂 I was waiting to read this as I’m likely going to change over to a standing desk within the next month or so

    • DavidShaver

      @SnappyTouch I love my GeekDesk at work! My lower back problems went away in weeks. More energy!

    • weheartgames

      @SnappyTouch I could totally see myself dancing all the time too… hahaha. Looks sweet though, I might have to try that.

    • Bob_at_BH

      @SnappyTouch #idevblogaday

    • mysterycoconut

      @SnappyTouch damn you! After all week setting up my own office, now I want a standing desk 😛 Maybe I try the books first though LOL

    • yittsv

      @SnappyTouch Is it any better, don’t you feel like sitting. That reminds me of a full day of teaching when I used to do that.

    • @SnappyTouch Welcome to the club!

      • @castano That’s right! You were actually the first person I knew who started using one! I had forgotten 🙂

      • msinilo

        @SnappyTouch Standing desks are quite popular in EU. I’d say roughly 10% of ppl at Starbreeze were using them (not 100% of the time,tho)

      • @msinilo They’re almost unheard of around here, but they’re awesome. I’d never go back!

    • @SnappyTouch BTW, feet pain – it goes away in a couple of months. Don’t you ever get cramps? I did until I learned to stretch properly.

      • @castano No, I never get cramps (but I don’t get cramps in sports either)

    • benjohnbarnes

      @SnappyTouch Interesting to hear your tried polyphasic sleep too 🙂 Think I’d go crazy :-/

      • @benjohnbarnes Polyphasic sleep was awesome. Works best if you’re single though 🙂

      • benjohnbarnes

        @SnappyTouch 🙂 Should think it would work great with kids too – my sleep is approaching that pattern, I think 🙂

    • @SnappyTouch Ohhh but you still have plenty of time to finish your #idevblogaday on the PST ;-). Finally the standing desk experiment ;-).

    • @SnappyTouch This was an interesting read for the standing desk, but now we need to have a video of you dancing like Hugh Grant ;-p.

    • GeekDesk

      @SnappyTouch Not bad! =)

    • shanev

      @SnappyTouch I use an exercise ball as a chair. Forces your back to be active while sitting, less strenuous than standing

  • Aaron

    Nice article! I’ve been looking at getting a standing desk for years, but the cost has been extremely prohibitive, so I’ve just made do.
    Glad to see it worked out for you, and now I’m going to copy your ideas and try my own makeshift standing desks.

  • McMuttons

    Great stuff. Like you said, it’s much more common here in Europe, at least in Scandinavia. In Norway, most large companies will have height adjustable office desks as part of their ergonomics initiatives. Workers’ laws are such that you can demand it if you have any kind of health issue that might benefit, like a bad back or anything else like that. I have to admit I’m generally sitting down, but maybe I should give the standing desk a go. My back could probably benefit from more standing. 🙂

  • This was a good read. I tried a standing desk for a little while myself. The stack of books kind. I also found that I wanted to often sit down to rest, and of course the stack of books wasn’t the most stable solution. I think I will give it another go at some point but I do think I’ll need to go all the way and get a proper adjustable desk.

  • Dancing in the streets to this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFcSBLP_4n4

    Where is the yoga ball? Chairs are for wimps! 🙂

  • Dr. Bubba

    It is the only way to go. Been using a standing desk for about 10 years. At first it seemed to help my focus at times when I could not focus well. I also had trouble with my legs and eventually got DVTs. Now I need to stand as much as I sit. When we started a bullpen and pair programming we ordered desks that would raise high enough for me to work at if I needed. We switch between two and often we go in phases depending on our needs. Glad you seem to enjoy it.

  • Kay

    Hello there!

    I’ve been following your blog network since a few weeks now and I find them very useful and entertaining. 🙂

    After I read this article I felt a brainwave floating through my head:
    I’ve got one of those “Powertowers” where you can perform several muscle strengthening exercies, such as climb-ups. (http://advancedfitcomau.melbourneitwebsites.com/persistent/catalogue_images/products/power_tower.jpg)

    I always knew there was more I could do with that monstrous thing, so I decided to give it a try and build some sort of tabletop out of cardboard and tape. Here is the result: http://img688.imageshack.us/g/dsc00319nd.jpg/

    It’s an incredible feeling to play your own game while standing there and listening to Queen music! It feels very much like a Simulator and anytime a family member comes by you will recognize facial expressions saying “uhm… R you serious?”.

    It’s much of an advantage to have a large monitor that you can bend backwards to some degree, as it is quite a pain to code with a zoomed screen. Mine is 19″, but I think it should be as big as about 24″ at least.

    Every now and then you can hang your body while holding the handle above, which is very pleasing for the back. I’m looking forward to build a podest, so I don’t need those papers to stand on anymore. 🙂
    Furthermore, It’s quite easy to switch back to your normal chair, took me about a minute to pull that thing back to his place.

    I paid 130€ for it but I guess that they are much cheaper in America, just google for “Power tower exercise” or anything similar.

    Make sure that the horizontal leavers on the front aren’t static, otherwise you can’t position your tabletop very well!

    Cheers,

    Kay from Germany

  • At Google anyone can have a standing desk. I switched 2 months ago although I actually feel less productive. Could be coincidence based on current work though.

    Rather than raising and lowering the desk they just give you a very tall desk chair for when you want to sit.

    Otherwise, WTF! Only 1 monitor and only 24 inches? Haven’t you read about the enormous productivity benefits of larger and/or multiple monitors?

    • Kay

      @Gregg, I find 24 inches quite huge, how many monitors have you got? Maybe I should really get a second monitor. Didn’t know it would have that much impact on productivity.

      • At home I have one 24inch and two 19inch monitors. At work at I have one 30inch and one 24inch. After having used the 30 inch I’m frustrated by my 24inch at home. Being able to easily get 4 full height windows of code on the screen at once on my 30 inch is pretty useful.

    • Technically I have two monitors because I use the laptop one as well. I’ve worked with more screen real estate in the past and it was great. RIght now I’m stuck with just one monitor + laptop screen because that’s all the MBP can handle. Maybe someday soon I’ll upgrade to a bigger monitor though.

      I’m sure that’s also part of the reason I’m an avid user of Spaces (I usually run 8 spaces, with 2 monitors each).

  • Interesting to see your progression! I once used my laptop on top of my ottoman on top of my desk. Still had issues but my back felt better. Here’s a site for all the “standers” out there: http://juststand.org. : -)

  • Awesome, I actually work from home, and I try to read something by standing or walking in my room. iPad makes it much easier for me to read and browse.

  • Hey awesome Noel, you just inspired me to try it out too. Here’s my makeshift setup: http://whatupdave.tumblr.com/post/1208032818/inspired-by-this-and-this-ive-decided-to-try

    • Awesome! Please post back or tweet in a week or two to let me know how it goes!

  • Colin McGinley

    I made the switch two years ago and don’t see myself ever going back. Kyle had been doing it for a while and was just using cinder blocks, so I popped down to Home Depot. $12 and a bit of heavy lifting is all it took. I didn’t have any problems using a draft chair when needing a break. One thing I don’t see you mention which I’ve found invaluable is using a good quality mat. It really helps with preventing fatigue in your feet and lower legs. I love the faux snakeskin Gel Pro mat I use. They do seem pricey, but are well worth it IMHO.

  • Please tell more about the ‘polyphasic sleep’ experiment