Switching to a Standing Desk: The Why and The How

[ Note: This is the first post in an in-depth series. ]

It recently came to my attention that I have a very sedentary lifestyle. Well, perhaps ‘recently’ is a bit of a misnomer. I think I’ve always known. But in my defense, it’s not entirely on purpose.

Factors not in my favor:

  • Habit. How many times during the day do you find yourself looking for a place to sit down before you can think through something, do your work or just generally focus? Are you even aware of doing this? I certainly wasn’t. Sitting down to do stuff is just what we humans do.
  • Occupational hazard. My day jobs (as well as most of my fun projects) all require the use of a computer. Sure, I could do my writing long-hand (and I do sometimes) but standing around scribbling in a notebook seems even less feasible than standing up to use a computer.
  • Low energy. I’m naturally a low energy person, meaning I don’t need a lot of activity or external stimuli to keep me motivated. However, spending so much of my life sitting was creating a catch-22. When you sit, your body enters a resting mode and things like your metabolism take a major snooze. But since I didn’t need to rev up those systems in order to keep working, it was easy to lose hours at a time in a chair without being aware of it.

All of these things might have continued, too, if it weren’t for my body telling me to stop. Or yelling, more like it. It was clear I needed to do something.

The trouble was, I wasn’t sure how to reconcile my computer-heavy, day-to-day life with this new demand for movement. It seemed everything I did involved sitting: graphic design, writing, browsing the web, playing video games, watching TV or movies, creating art or other projects, going for a leisurely drive, talking on the phone. I sat for all of it – all day long. (And quite often, most of the night, too.) It’s no wonder I kept finding my neck and back sore, my legs half asleep, and my ankles stiff and popping.

(As a matter of interest, regular bouts of exercise contained in 30-60 minute intervals during the week is not enough to counteract the effects of a sitting lifestyle. It’s about achieving regular bodily motion all throughout the day – every day. Here’s a couple related articles: Mayo Clinic | Washington Post)

At first I wondered if all of this was just a product of aging, as I didn’t recall having this problem last year – or ever before, really. I had smartly invested in a Herman Miller chair shortly after I started my business in 2005, knowing I was going to be sitting a lot and wanted to make an investment in my posture and sitting health. And it worked wonders. Technically it still does – I just think I’ve been abusing the privilege. So, time to switch things up.

I’m not even sure where I originally heard about treadmill desks, but somehow it had crossed my radar again recently and I jumped at the chance to learn more. I started with research, reading any articles, personal stories, reviews and manufacturer’s websites I could find. I wanted to see if there was any sort of consensus out there – did treadmill desks really work? Were they worth it?

What I found was not what I expected. I thought a particular product was going to bubble to the top of the pile and give me a direction to pursue. It didn’t. (Turns out there is as much variety in standing and treadmill desks as there is in most other product industries – which is to say, a lot.) Instead, what I discovered was that everyone unanimously loved their treadmill desks. Maybe not right away, and maybe not all for the same reasons, but the one point they all agreed on was that treadmill desks were life-changing and had revolutionized the way they worked, emailed, browsed Facebook and talked on the phone. And for some people, the way they exercised.

And just like that, I was sold.

Only one problem: I wasn’t ready to pop for the $2,000 price tag many of the specialty/pre-packaged treadmill desks cost. What if I didn’t like it? What if it wasn’t a good fit for doing precision mousing – something that comprises the bulk of my computer work?

(Several of the articles specifically mentioned that a treadmill desk may not be a good fit for graphic designers, drafters, engineers, or others who require precision control over the mouse in order to do their work. The people testing the desks and sharing their stories were mainly checking email, taking phone calls, browsing the web and writing articles – all activities with casual (or no) mouse usage.)

So, armed with this potential caveat in mind, I decided to start simpler and downgraded myself to a standing desk instead. I figured if I couldn’t adapt to standing while working, then I certainly wasn’t going to adapt to walking while working. One thing at a time!

Luckily, I was able to skip buying any of the costly, adjustable-height desks because of an inexpensive IKEA hack that I found early on in my search. Thanks to a write-up by Colin Nederkoorn, I had the makings of a perfect test solution. For about $25.00, I “converted” my regular desk into a standing desk. It’s a non-invasive approach that can be used on anything (table or desk), and removed easily if needed. It’s genius.

You can read through Colin’s page above for all the specifics, including his handy ergonomic reference chart, but below is the list of materials you’ll need:

Total cost: $25.00

After using the standing desk for a couple days, I ended up buying some additional enhancements, some more urgent than others:

  • Anti-skid adhesive discs (x 2), 3/4″ – $4.00 at Home Depot
    (Placed on the top edge of the brackets to help keep the shelf from sliding around)
  • Anti-skid screw-on pads, 1.5″ (x 4) – $3.00 at Home Depot
    (Adhered to the bottom of each table leg to prevent the whole unit from moving)
  • NewLife by GelPro® gel mat, 20″ x 32″ – $70.00
  • Extra long 25” wrist rest by 3M – $18.00
  • Cat bed for underneath (optional ;) – Free, if you have one on-hand; cat is extra
  • A pair of comfortable tennis shoes

Additional features: $95.00

The reveal:

IKEA Hack Standing Desk

Not bad for a $120 investment, I say. Not bad at all.


Some other notes:

No matter if you are trying to blend in with existing decor or create a colorful conversation piece, there are options to mix and match in both directions. The LACK side tables come in 11 colors, the shelves in black and orange, and the brackets in black and birch.

For my office setup, I opted to match the side table to my desk and chose “birch effect” for the color. For the shelf, I picked orange, as it’s almost an exact match to the wall adjacent to my desk. For the brackets, I chose black. The resulting combination looks cool and fits well with my existing decor. For my gaming PC station, I chose the gray-turquoise table and the black shelf and brackets. It also looks suitably cool.

IKEA does sell adjustable-height table legs (with a choice of table surface), but I disregarded this option because it would have meant finding a place for an additional piece of furniture. I didn’t want an additional piece of furniture – I already have a desk in my office that I like and have used for years. Using the IKEA hack instead, I was able to incorporate a standing desk into my existing space and move it if I need to (to sit and work!), all without physically altering or damaging the desk itself. For me, it’s perfect, and I don’t see any reason why I won’t be able to use this setup for years to come.

Check out the next post in this series: Acclimating

6 Comments Switching to a Standing Desk: The Why and The How

  1. Sandy Beason

    I can’t wait to see it, she says as she sits very comfortably in her recliner, when I come to visit. I did tell you I was coming for a long visits, right? I like your new shoes too.

    Your fellow trouble-maker.

  2. Christine

    You are smart AND thrifty…good luck with the experiment. I can’t sit still longer than two hours at a time. I find natural breaks in between projects, but then might head to the kitchen too often when working from home. My dogs made me go out this morning before the “big storm.” They are my “standing desk.” haha. Can’t wait to hear more…

    1. Kristin Smith

      See, a dog might be one of the next additions to our household. I dog-sat for a friend about a year ago and we had her pup for 8 weeks. At first it was weird having this animal that had to go outside all the time, but I quickly got used to it. Once he went back home, I immediately missed the forced excuse to get up and move.


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