Lately it’s been fashionable to talk about the evils of sitting. This particular reporting trend hits especially close to home for me, as I’ve made the transition from peripatetic teacher/grad student to get-me-another-mountain-dew coder over the last year or two. So, on the inspiration of a few blog posts (notably, Gina Trapani’s and Derek Brooks’s), I decided to give the standing desk a shot. I made the switch around five weeks ago. Here’s how I did it, and how it’s going.
You can buy desks that are specifically made for standing. You can even buy desks that convert from a sitting to a standing position. The problem with these is that they cost a lot of money. As evidenced by the fact that my current desk is a piece of crap I found for free on the internet, I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a desk if I don’t have to. Also, it seems unwise to invest big bucks in a standing desk before knowing whether it’ll be a workable setup. So I set it up on the cheap, using crap that I found around the house. (I may never work up the gumption to spring for the super-expensive standing desk, as my makeshift setup is working just fine.)
People who see my setup are often amazed by how high everything is, especially my screens. (Usually, these people are shorter than I am.) I am a big believer in being able to look at my computer screens without craning my neck downward, so I prop them all the way up to standing eye-level. In fact, this is something I’ve always done, even at a regular sitting desk. For those using a laptop, this means getting a separate keyboard and mouse. But this one change – moving screens to a natural eye-level – has had more positive ergonomic effect than any other adjustment I’ve ever made in the way I work. I definitely recommend it.
I did quite a bit of experimentation with keyboard/mouse heights. At first, I had put them too low – around waist level – which meant bending my wrists backward a lot. Then I overcompensated and moved them too high, but my hands kept getting cold and falling asleep due to decreased circulation. I settled on a height that allows me to keep my forearms roughly parallel to the floor at all times (which means that my elbows are at roughly a right angle, and my wrists are straight). To alleviate arm fatigue, I have a couple little gel-thingies where I rest the heels of my hands when I’m not typing quickly.
The biggest complaint I’d seen about the switch to the standing desk had to do with foot fatigue, which many seem to experience during the switch. For some reason, I have never felt it. The only place I ever get sore is in my upper back, between my shoulder blades. This probably has something to do with the way that I tense up when I type or when I think too hard. (This happens a lot, because, duh, I’m such a deep thinker.) However, I did end up buying a standing mat, as I have hardwood floors that would get somewhat uncomfortable after an entire workday. I went with the Imprint Nantucket Series, which got nice reviews on Amazon. So far, I like it.
How it’s going
To date, the experiment has had mostly positive results. Aside from the shoulder pain mentioned above, I don’t have any physical complaints. Standing seems to keep me more alert, and makes me feel less lethargic. It forces me to take breaks through the day (something I had a tendency not to do before, which probably had a net negative effect on my productivity). Generally I’ll take a half-hour sit around lunchtime, and if I’m lazy in the mid-afternoon, I’ll unplug my laptop and move to the couch for a while. Standing also means that I don’t work into the wee hours – I tend to start work around 8:30am and never work past 6 or 6:30pm. This is a good thing for my mental health. Finally, standing leads to much more dancing, which is, of course, something we all need more of in our lives.