The desk I work at is not adjustable, and while I briefly wrestled with the idea of propping it up higher with printer paper or cinder blocks, I didn’t want to completely give up my ability to work while sitting. Plus, while sitting increases the risk of lifestyle diseases, standing while working comes with its own set of health problems. Alternating between standing and sitting seemed to be the best idea. So I improvised.
I wanted to get started fast, with low startup costs. My normal setup consists of a laptop docked into a monitor, ergonomic split keyboard and mouse. I use an Aeron chair and have everything adjusted to the right ergonomic height.
The cost of moving to a standing or walking desk can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Before spending money, I wanted to ensure I could commit to the idea. Thus, I undocked my laptop and set it on a shelf that I could stand in front of. I ran an extension cord, plugged in my travel mouse and power supply and was ready to go.
The setup has problems. The shelf sits about two inches lower than the ideal position for my hands, and I use the laptop screen, which forces me to look down instead of straight for much of the day.
But using my laptop on a shelf has its advantages. It’s cheap, and I can easily dock it back at my desk whenever I get tired (or when I eat at my desk, which I know I shouldn’t do). And it was fast to get started, preventing me from procrastinating or using the project as a distraction from work.
My experiment was to try to work four hours per day standing. And I succeeded.
According to reports, standing burns about 50 calories more an hour than sitting (walking while working burns up to 120 calories more an hour). Anecdotal reports indicate people who stand while working have higher productivity, improved circulation to the brain and improved focus.
For the most part, my experience over the past 3 weeks bears this out. I’ve been more focused and productive when standing. I don’t know how many extra calories I’ve burned or what my circulation looks like, but I regularly shift my weight and switch positions. It’s not uncommon for me to take a couple steps back and do a quick stretch. And it’s become easier to access things in my office–walking beats scooting across the floor on a chair with casters.
Though it hasn’t been without some discomfort.
The first week I had lower back pain and mild foot pain. On my first Thursday, I got absorbed in a project for hours and forgot I was standing. I stood for 6 – 7 hours that day, and was noticeably exhausted at the end. Though the pain and exhaustion seem to be fading the longer I continue the experiment.
Improving My Setup
Long-term my setup has deficiencies. Docking and undocking takes time. And my peripherals don’t always reconnect, forcing me to repeat the procedure. The ergonomics, however, present the greatest long-term problem, since I’m sure to get neck issues staring downward at a screen all day.
Solutions I’m investigating include:
- Reverse KVM Switch
A reverse KVM (Keyboard-Video-Mouse) switch allows you to connect two monitors, two keyboards and two mice to the same computer. Buying a cheap standing desk along with another monitor would allow me to have two desks, each ergonomically adjusted to the right height, but connected to the same computer. Switching would become as easy as activating the switch and changing positions.
- Ergotron Workfit S
A desk add-on that bolts onto your existing desk and allows you to quickly adjust the height of your monitor, keyboard and mouse. I’m less convinced of this solution, since it requires manual adjustments and I’d like to be able to switch positions often and rapidly.
- Anti-Fatigue Floor Mat
A week into my experiment, I threw workout mats underneath my feet to provide cushioning. My feet still occasionally hurt though, so I may purchase this mat to increase my cushion.
For now, I plan to stay away from expensive solutions such as motorized adjustable desks. But I remain interested in the walking desks that, while expensive, would allow me to walk while I work. Walking desks give you exercise and increase the number of calories you burn throughout the day.
Overall, I feel the experiment has been a success and am looking forward to continuing it. My next step will be to increase the ergonomics of my standing setup. If that works out well, and I’m still committed to standing in another six months, I may investigate taking the financial splurge into a walking desk. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, have you tried standing while working? What have been your experiences?