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A blog about thriving and feeling awesome, by Brad Rourke

Why I Sit At My Standing Desk

For about four months now, I’ve been using a standing desk. They’re all the rage these days, in part because of this opinion piece in The New York Times, which opens with:

Your chair is your enemy.

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

Long before that piece, I had been considering a standing desk, in part because I think they are cool. But more than that, I had been observing my own behavior. I’m an inveterate pacer. I found that, when I was on conference calls, I had begun to wear a cordless headset so I could stand up and pace. When I was writing, I would keep getting up and walking around. I had begun to think: I wonder if I should just figure out a way to stand all the time? (I was not concerned with the health aspects so much — I am quite active.)

Then I saw that news article, and I began to see colleagues with standing desks. Now I had to have one.

When I moved last September, it was a chance to change my home office (where I spend most of my day) around. So I decided to go for a standing desk.

My Standing Desk

Since I’m a cheapskate when it comes to furnishings, I decided to roll my own. Due to the move, we suddenly had two kitchen islands that were no longer going to be needed — each was 35.5 inches high. By stacking books and experimenting with my laptop, I determined that the optimal height to have a work surface was 43″.

So I would need to raise the islands by 8″.

I wanted something that would be rock-solid, and I am not very handy. So, instead of fashioning some sort of leg structure, I simply made pedestals out of 2×10 lumber. I had the Home Depot folks cut me 16 pieces that were each 8″ long, and four rectangular pieces that were 21″ long.

I stacked the small pieces 4 high, and attached them to one another by drilling drywall screws through each. Finally, I tied sets of two together with the rectangular pieces. The result looks like this:

Risers

Risers

Then, I simply rested the islands on top of the risers to create an L=shaped work area.

What I Learned Using A Standing Desk

I was very excited to start using my new standing desk, and I immediately felt benefits. I felt like I had more energy, and was generally more on top of things. Just standing made me feel like I was really in the game, work-wise.

My Standing Workspace (with Mat)

My Standing Workspace (with Mat)

But, to be honest, I think that was honeymoon. The honeymoon quickly wore off.

First, I noticed that my feet hurt . . . a lot. My office floor is hard tile, and I am either barefoot or in Vibram Five Finger shoes (which have no sole and no cushioning) all day long. After a few days, I could barely stand it. I found myself doing most of my work in a sofa that is my “reading nook” instead of at my desk.

Padding, I thought. That’s what I need. So I purchased some anti-fatigue matting at Home Depot and it helped a little bit, but not much. Finally, while setting up a home gym I discovered that I had some extra sheets of foam “puzzle” mat for the weight area — heavyweight stuff, 3/4″ thick. That seemed to do the trick, and I once again began to look forward to work. The setup looks like the photo at right.

But even that wasn’t enough. I still found myself taking breaks — long ones — on my sofa. It turns out that I like to both stand and sit.

So I would need a chair. However, since I had raised my desk so high — higher than most drafting tables — it became difficult to find a proper chair. None of them would actually go high enough. And, while I felt confident creating a platform for my desk, I was a little dubious of perching myself on top of a home-made chair platform.

Finally, I found a drafting chair that had an extra-high height extension (up to 32″). I keep that near my desk and, when I feel like it, I sit in it.

Again observing my own behavior, I find that when I need to do something that requires some focused concentration, I like the chair. For emails, phone work, light administrative duties, etc. — standing keeps me engaged.

The whole thing also keeps me a bit amused: I put a lot of effort into planning my standing desk, then a lot of effort into finding the right chair to go with my standing desk. Now I spend about half of my time on a super-tall chair in front of a surface meant for standing.

Sometimes I Sit

Sometimes I Sit

Do you use a standing desk? Have you tried one? Do you want to?

Let me know!



12 Comments

  1. Jack Becker · February 3, 2013 Reply

    Brad,

    Even though I spend time writing, most of the time I read. Before I had a standing desk, I would actually read standing up, since I knew I would have to sit and write after. Too much sitting hurt my back, so after a colleague literally put another table on top of his desk at work, I took action. As you know, I have a regular sitting desk with a portion that allows me to stand. I’ve used my standing desk now since May 2012. Like you, I have a comfy matt to stand on. During the workday, i probably split the hours between standing and sitting. I find myself standing more frequently in the mornings and after lunch–the times when I would most rather kick my feet up and close my eyes for a siesta. I’m fortunate to have the space to do both.

    Perhaps one day we will be able to work in antigravity offices :/

  2. Janet Brown · February 4, 2013 Reply

    I like using a solid high stool, so I can ‘perch’ on the edge of it, and sit fully when I feel like it. It needs space under the standing desk though, so one can stretch one’s legs under the desk a little while perching.

    Would it make a difference if you could get your feet under the table somewhat, do you think?

  3. Angelique · February 4, 2013 Reply

    It’s a good thing I work from home, and I have a laptop because I work all over the place! I could be sitting at my office desk — okay, I’m RARELY at my office desk unless I have to use my nice video camera — sitting on my living room couch, lounging with my feet up on my living room couch, standing at a bar-height table in my living room, sitting at my kitchen table, sitting or standing at my kitchen counter, sitting on my den couch, kneeling at my den coffee table, sitting at my patio table, sitting on an incline bench in my husband’s gym, or — maybe my fave — leaning on a bedrest in my bed.

    Oh, and in the passenger seat of my car while my kid drives.

    I hope my chiropractor isn’t reading this!

  4. Wayne Saucier · February 4, 2013 Reply

    My wife and I work together at home. We’ve both had stand-up desks for a couple years now–but only one (tall) chair. So we have to share the chair, ensuring that each of us must stand for at least half the day (if we don’t punt to the couch, of course). But the chair has been empty more and more of late–I think we’re both adjusting to standing for most of the work day…

  5. Eric T · February 5, 2013 Reply

    I also use an improvised standing desk and have settled on Janet’s approach: I have a rather uncomfortable high stool that I can perch on for a few moments when my legs/feet are feeling fatigued. It’s not so comfortable that I like to sit in it for extended periods of time so I usually hop off it pretty soon.

    On the “concentrated work” issue, I found that after standing for a few months it was easy for me to get into a focused state to program or do deep design work while standing… it just took some getting used to.

  6. Steve Kirkpatrick · February 6, 2013 Reply

    Brad,

    Your story is interesting. I think your solution is a “lean-to-stand” seat at a standing desk.

    Check out the Focal Locus Seat at http://www.focaluprightfurniture.com

    Full disclosure, I am the CFO. Irrespective of that, I’m sure you’ll find the pictures and info on the website informative and potentially the answer to your conundrum.

  7. Ileana · May 17, 2013 Reply

    I’ve been thinking for sometime now about experimenting with a standing desk, but don’t quite know how to go about it… Maybe you can help with some further thoughts when in town.
    Yes, I do find myself sitting too much –either in my office and in meetings or in my car or even at home (mostly after a long day of sitting in meetings at work!). Not healthy!
    My legs have a tendency to get swollen, after too much sitting or standing, though… so, I am trying to come up with a happy medium…

    • Steve Kirkpatrick · May 17, 2013 Reply

      Ileana,

      If you are interested in trying a new approach that splits the difference between sitting and standing check out http://www.focaluprightfurniture.com

      We are at the ICFF show in NYC where the show opens to the public on Tuesday. It is at the Javits Center. We are in booth 2006. Not sure if you’re in NY, but figured it is worth a shot.

      We have other places you can try it out if you’re interested – feel free to contact us.

      Steve Kirkpatrick

  8. Noelle McAfee · April 12, 2014 Reply

    I’ve long thought that (most) furniture is the problem. Sitting on the floor is an entirely different experience than is sitting in a chair. I just might try experimenting with working with my laptop on the floor the next few days. The only problem with this is the dog who gets very happy when I’m on his level.

    Also, lots of old cultures without furniture, people squat, heels firmly on the ground. It’s amazing how you can hang out like that for a while.

  9. a · June 25, 2014 Reply

    First off I would like to say great blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you
    do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.

    I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there.
    I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips?
    Kudos!

  10. metahead · March 23, 2015 Reply

    I found your blog while searching for a standing work desk design. I have a feeling I won’t be able to stand and work the entire day, so I’m also planning to get a bar stool or something high that I can sit on when I get tired. I am tempted to put a loveseat in my work area, but I’m afraid I’ll be spending more time on it than standing in front of my standing work desk. 🙂

    • Steve Kirkpatrick · May 8, 2015 Reply

      You mentioned you’ll likely need a “stool or something” to use with your standing desk. Check out the Focal Locus Seat, Mobis Seat and Mogo. Three award winning options for people who want to be able to alternate between standing and active seating throughout the day. More info is available on our website, http://www.focalupright.com.

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