My Standing Desk Experiment: 3 Weeks Later

Three weeks ago my friend Jonathan Feldman re-tweeted this article about switching to a standing desk. I became immediately intrigued, cleared off a shelf and undocked my laptop.

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.

My Setup

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 Results

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.

Next Steps

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?


  1. Blaise Freeman says:

    I’ve been experimenting with similar work arrangements. I’ve got one monitor on an ergotron desk-mounted arm, which adjusts b/w sitting and standing pretty well.

    An equally significant change was a kneeling desk chair. I didn’t know about the anti-fatigue floor mats though, sounds like it’d be worth trying! Another way to relieve issues associated with standing for a while: dancing!

  2. JohnP says:

    Instead of a reverse KVM (never heard of this), why not use an old, low powered PC to remote desktop into your laptop over the network? Using NX provides high performance compared to VNC – perhaps 5x better. Since your sitting and standing workspaces are in the same room, audio isn’t an issue.

    Anyway, just a thought.

    1. trevor says:

      Good idea. Though I just got rid of all my old PCs.

      Currently, I’m using a set of shelves I bought at Lowe’s whose shelves are adjustable within 1 1/2″ (the shelves can be set sunken or flush).

      I’m placing my laptop on a high shelf and then plugging in a keyboard and mouse on the lower shelf (both adjusted to be the correct height for me). But it still requires that I undock the laptop.

      The issue I see with the remote desktop is that I have to have monitors which are the same size, or else deal with the remoting software rescaling, which can be hard to read sometimes.

      In my last apartment, my standing desk was across the room from my sitting desk, so the remote desktop solution would have been the only option. Now with the two desks side-by-side, I’m back to looking at the reverse KVM.

      I’ll try to post an update in the next couple months with how I configured the shelves to be a desk and with my reverse KVM experiment.

      Thanks for the suggestion though. It’s a great option for a lot of people.

  3. Tim P says:

    Why have a reverse KVM at all. Why not just have cloned desktop with two pairs of keyboards and mice plugged in?

    1. trevor says:

      Not sure how I would set this up. How do I clone a desktop? Do I need two video outs on my docking station or is there a way to do it with just the one (or one VGA and one DVI, which is what my docking station has)?

  4. Andreas says:
    then remotecontrol you laptop.

    1. trevor says:

      Using the Raspberry Pi is definitely a neat idea. As I mentioned in my reply to JohnP’s comment, I’ve had issues remoting in when the screen resolutions aren’t matched exactly.

      It also puts an extra load on the machine and removes some desktop rendering features. Remoting is great for occasional work, but personally I’d rather use a direct connection for day-to-day work.

      But it may be an acceptable solution for others. And the Raspberry Pi definitely rocks regardless!

  5. JP says:

    I can definitely vouch for the anti-fatigue floor mats. When I switched to standing, the biggest pain I felt was in my feet and calf muscles. The anti-fatigue mat (get them for cheap on Amazon or eBay) helped A LOT. I can stand 4-5 hours a day now no problem.

  6. David says:

    I’m curious if you stuck with this setup over the past couple of years and, if so, what improvements have you made (if any) or those that you’d suggestion?

    I’ve been considering a similar setup when I move this summer, but with a treadmill (I walk extensively as it is) though there are concerns as to whether or not I should phase this in; stand before walking.

    1. trevor says:

      I’ll work on a post with a full update, but briefly:

      1. Bought shelves as a standing desk.

      I bought the Edsal Model MR4824WGB Shelves at Lowe’s. A bit industrial, but they have a clean black look, are adjustable within 1-1/2″ and cost around $80. I use the third shelf as my keyboard & mouse shelf and the fourth shelf to hold a monitor.

      2. Connected dual peripherals.

      I bought an extra monitor, keyboard and mouse so I could have two of each connected to my laptop. The docking station I use has both a VGA and DVI out, so I use one of each for each monitor. The monitors are mirrored (because of their differing locations, it’d be difficult to use them as a dual monitor solution). Oh, and I upgraded both monitors to 21″ screens.

      3. Moved standing desk next to sitting desk.

      This was a requirement of connecting all the peripherals to the same computer. Previously when I was still undocking my computer, I kept my standing desk on the other side of the room.

      4. Bought an anti-fatigue mat.

      Or, more appropriately, my girlfriend did. So I don’t know the brand or model. But it’s plain black with nice cushioning.

      The net result is that now it’s incredibly easy for me to switch from standing to sitting and back again. It’s as easy as standing up and turning on my other monitor. I now switch back and forth up to a dozen times a day depending on my task, mood and how my body is feeling.

      Hope that helps. When I have time, I’ll write the follow-up article with additional details on how I got this all set up.

  7. James Becker says:

    Now—5 years later—how does it feel?

    1. trevor says:

      Well, I’m still using a standing desk. And when I travel and don’t have access to one, I get less done and have more muscle tightness.

      I played around with several setups over the years. For many years I had my laptop permanently docked, connected to two monitors, keyboard and mice: one for my sitting desk and one for my standing desk.

      Then I switched to a Varidesk that had both monitors on it. This got rid of the need for the shelves and allowed me to use dual monitors, which increases my productivity. But Varidesks can be kind of clunky and it took over room on my desk that I used to use for writing and paperwork.

      I’ve been traveling for the past 6 months, and the lack of an ergonomic setup is definitely taking a toll on my body. My muscles are getting extra knots. I am still doing some standing desk work, by putting my laptop on a counter or shelf. But then my hands are often not at the right angle and my neck is constantly tilted down to look at the screen.

      When I get back to my home office, I will likely purchase a motorized sit-stand desk so I can have the benefits of a dual monitor setup with the extra space of a desk.

      In the almost 7 years since I started this experiment, standing desks have gotten a lot cheaper and higher quality. Right now, the best article I’ve seen on standing desk reviews is this one by the Wirecutter.

      Bottom line: I know think a standing desk is essential. Without it, I’m less focused and feel more tightness in my muscles.

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