Standing desks

Standing deskI’ve switched to a standing desk for work, and thought I’d share my experiences with it.

I tend to get involved in a variety of things at work, but I’m primarily a developer. I’m a code monkey.

Traditionally, this has involved a lot of sitting. Not just a lot of sitting overall, but for long periods, too. I couldn’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been hunched over a laptop and lost track of time… looking up in surprise hours later.

There has been a lot of press about how bad this is for me. Excessive sitting is lethal. Sitting for an hour does more to shorten your life than smoking a cigarette.

I figured that as long as I went for a run and kept my weight down, that would make up for it. There is also research that says this doesn’t work and that sitting causes harm which isn’t undone by a bit of exercise every day.

I’d ignored more or less all of this.

But then I screwed up my back and sitting for long periods wasn’t an option. Working on a standing desk started as a necessity, but now that I’ve gotten into it, I wish I’d started years ago.

I don’t want to sound like a zealot or try to convert people to it. I just want to share what it’s been like.

Starting cheap

My first standing desk was basically two piles of books – one for my laptop keyboard, and one for my monitor. Adjusting the height during the day consisted of adding or removing books. A colleague of mine started with boxes.

Standing desk... mark 1Standing desk... mark 1

Try to get the keyboard high enough that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees with your forearms parallel with the floor. Get the monitor high enough that your eyes are level with the top of the screen with your neck straight.

However you do it, I think it’s important to find a way to try it out for free or cheap to see if it’s for you.

It’s not all or nothing

I don’t stand all day. I try to spend more time in the office standing than sitting, but standing breaks are essential. I need to spend some time sitting. This means I need to be able to easily switch my workplace between sitting and standing.

When I used the piles of books, this meant having a space next to it with a chair and a monitor that I could move my laptop to when I needed to sit down.

Now, I use a Posturite DeskRite 500, an electric height adjustable desk. Press a button and electric motors in the legs of the desk raise it to a standing height.

Standing desk... mark 2

Press another button and it sits back down.

Standing desk... mark 2

And it’s pretty quick, so I can easily switch between the two during the day. Easy and quick is key. If it’s slow or a hassle to switch, it’d put me off doing it.

Don’t be a hero

When I started, I was trying to see how long I could last before I needed to sit down. I figured that each day I’d be able to last a little longer until I got to the point of being able to stand all day.

That didn’t work. I just ached and got tired, and couldn’t concentrate on work. I don’t like the goal of Must Stand All Day now.

What worked was switching very regularly at first.

I started by picking a few things that I could do standing: “today I’m going to do all my conference calls standing up”. That helped.

I switched regularly even within an hour. I’d start by working standing up for 15 minutes, then sit for 30 minutes, then go for a quick walk to get a coffee or something. Once that was easy, I’d stand for 20 minutes, and sit for 25.

I try to spend longer overall standing through the day, but I’m not going for long unbroken periods of standing. Maybe an hour or so now, and definitely not more than 90 minutes.

Keep moving

My goal isn’t to stand perfectly still, like a Beefeater at the Tower of London. It’s not about standing, it’s about not being inactive all day. Keep moving around. Shift my weight around.

Music helps. I tend to have headphones on while I code anyway. But moving around to music makes it easier to do it without thinking about it. I’ve read that dancing while you stand is good – I’m not exactly bouncing around that much, but it does keep me moving. It’s probably just as well that I’m not in an open plan office.

And I do some tasks, like phone and conference calls, while pacing around the office. Movement is key.

Vary your stance

On a similar note, varying my stance through the day helps. Some times of the day I’ll be standing straighter than others. And if I’m doing something that doesn’t need me to type, then raising my desk even higher and leaning on it makes for a good standing break. My electric standing desk doesn’t have fixed preset heights (you just hold the up/down buttons to make it move, let go to stop) and that’s actually a good thing. I’m regularly tweaking it throughout the day as my stance varies.

I also try other ways to shift my stance, particularly in the afternoons if I’m getting tired. I read how the reason that pubs will have a horizontal metal pole along the floor at the bar is because resting one foot higher than the other is a good change for helping you stand for longer. So I try and do the same thing with a short pile of books: “Intermittently rotating your hips locks out knee ligaments and puts all your body weight on one leg, which is used as a cane to prop you up … allows you to maintain a neutral curvature of the spine while resting one leg in front of the other and bending slightly at the knee … decreas[ing] the risk of back and leg fatigue”

Pad your feet

I tried barefoot, but didn’t get on with it. More padding seems to be better. Running shoes are good, although I’m not comfortable wearing them in the office often. I’ve heard padded standing mats are good, but I’ve not tried that yet. I’ve added one to my Amazon wish list though, so if you want an idea for a Christmas present for me, there you go. ;-)

Don’t give up too easily

That’s more or less it. It’s tiring as hell at first – I was surprised how much more tired I was at the end of the day at first. But as I stuck with it, it got easier. Not only does it not stop me concentrating any more, it actually helps me focus more. The fact that my desk is now a big electric toy with buttons doesn’t hurt, either.

We really need to find a way to hack it now. :)

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One Response to “Standing desks”

  1. Dave N says:

    This is Christmas and yet I can’t find the obligatory blinking lights MQTT web link that would let me boot your desk up and down while you’re working?

    Perhaps you could hook it up and set it to subtly vary the height by a few cms regularly to keep you on your tours?

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