Switching to a Standing Desk: Acclimating

[ Note: This is the second post in an in-depth series. To learn more about why I opted for this setup, or how to build it, see the first post. ]

Now that I’ve got the first five days under my belt, I thought I’d share what happened while I got used to a standing desk. Your experience may vary, of course, but this should at least give you some idea of what to expect if you’re considering this change for yourself.

To start, the two biggest surprises of acclimating:

It happened really fast. Barely halfway into the first day, I already liked the change of standing versus sitting. By day two, I was ready to add a treadmill to the setup. By day five, standing had pretty much become my new normal. Maybe it’s like most things – the more you do of it, the easier and more natural it becomes.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be. I think we’re programmed to believe big lifestyle changes are always going to be hard, boring or painful. Even with this, I fully expected to type up my report (while sitting in the cushiest chair in the house) to say how awful and unnatural the process was. And it’s not to say there weren’t challenges or uncomfortable aspects to it, because there were, but I think the mindset you adopt going in has a lot (maybe everything) to do with your results. I set out on this little adventure wanting it to work. Frankly, I needed it to work. Had I been doing this out of obligation, I’m pretty sure I would have put every obstacle possible in my path to ensure it would stop now and let me get back to my chair. But it wasn’t, and so I didn’t.

In fact, here’s how it went down:

Day 1

The first thing I noticed while standing up to work was that my brain became very restless about the idea. I kept getting distracted and couldn’t focus at all, which made working impossible. It was like my mind was creating this odd sort of tension with my body, almost as if to say, “You can either work or you can stand, but not both.” That might sound silly, but my brain was only used to doing one of those things at a time – not both.

Thus, it took some conscious effort on my part to force the adjustment to happen. I literally had to say to myself (and my set-in-its-ways brain): “Get over it – this is happening, so do what you have to do to figure it out.”

And after a short time (with the requisite whining and stomping of mental feet), my brain did. I could almost feel the new neural pathways forming…

With that out of the way, the next thing I discovered was that standing required frequent adjustments in order to remain comfortable. That might have less to do with standing in general and more to do with how I stand, though: stationary, with semi-locked knees and tight shoulders. I don’t normally stand that way, but then I don’t normally use a computer standing up, so perhaps somewhere in my head that felt like the natural way to work. Also, there was nothing to lean on, which I could feel myself wanting to do a lot. Much like learning how to sit in a chair without slouching, I think it takes some time to establish good standing posture, too.

The immediate upsides:

  1. The nagging from my body to stop sitting has disappeared. Not bad for one day of standing!
  2. I appreciate sitting more than I ever have before (I didn’t feel the urge to sit down much, but when I did, a few minutes felt absolutely luxurious).

Day 2

Barely an hour into day two, I could already see the appeal of a treadmill desk. I kept finding myself standing with locked knees, which meant as soon as I realized it, I had to walk around for a minute or kick my legs up to stretch my knees. The biggest issue with standing seemed to be staying conscious of moving a lot: wiggling my toes, swaying my hips, flexing my knees, rotating my ankles. That’s where the benefit of a treadmill would come in: it makes all those little movements automatic.

I also thought I would be running to my chair more, but in truth I only sat in it for a few minutes total. On occasion I leaned against the edge of my desk. Whenever I would sit, I’d feel less productive, and actually get the itch to stand up again.

Day 3

By day three, my feet were really getting sore. They seemed refreshed after waking in the morning, but after 15-20 minutes of standing, they’d start reminding me they weren’t pleased with the floor in my office. So, I added an anti-fatigue/gel mat to the mix, and boy, did that feel divine. (I also added a nice pair of tennis shoes at the same time to really maximize the support and cushioning under my feet. It was game changing.)

One thing to note: because of my frequent, in-place movements, the mat itself “travels” along the floor. It’s pretty funny, actually. I have to move it back a few times a day. That probably sounds like it’d be a hassle, but I don’t find it bothersome at all – in fact, it’s just another excuse for bending and stretching!

The last thing I added to my setup was important – for my cats. The space underneath the LACK table was kind of a dead zone because it wasn’t really accessible when standing in front of the keyboard shelf. Adding a cat bed in there not only made good use of that space, but it also means my keyboard will now be saved from random keystrokes by fuzzy paws. Who knew a standing desk would have so many hidden bonuses?

Day 4

Ah, yes, day four. This is where the smile turned upside down. Perhaps it was because of the shock of standing so much after being a full-time chair dweller, or maybe it was my wonky standing posture, or maybe I was just tired. Whatever the cause, I was carrying tension in my shoulders and lower back and could not get comfortable no matter what combination of shoes/not shoes, mat/not mat, movement/not movement I tried. I was exhausted and I just wanted to sit. That is the short version of how I came to spend a long, blissful afternoon working in my chair.

Having this occur only three days in didn’t make me want to give up on the whole experiment, but it did help me realize what I had done wrong early on in the process. (You can probably guess what that was, but I’ll be going into more detail about it in my next post.)

Day 5

After an afternoon of sitting the day before, I was ready to stand again. This surprised me – I assumed I would just give up and take the chair route again.

I think that was the first time I really became aware of how much had changed within me in such a short time. Just because I took a break didn’t mean my body was keen to return to my previous habits. Sitting for awhile the day before didn’t end up being a setback. It didn’t reset everything I’d “learned” or make it harder to go back to standing. It was just that: a break.

Somewhere along the way, the two things – computer-based activities and standing – got associated together in my head. I’m certainly not complaining. And neither is my body.

Check out the next post in this series: Reflections and Hindsight

6 Comments Switching to a Standing Desk: Acclimating

  1. Sandy Beason

    I wondered if it would bother your back. I wonder too if it would be harder on an older person (hence older back) to adjust to standing all the time.

    1. Kristin Smith

      Standing while working doesn’t actually hurt my back – not if I’m practicing good posture by standing up straight. The day I wrote about in this post where I was tired and sore had much more to do with me overdoing it for the days that preceded that. (More to come on that in the next post.) As far as an older back, no, I think anyone can acclimate to this and enjoy the benefits, but you’d just want to start slow. You’ve had a standing job for most of your life, so you probably know that after awhile, you just don’t think about it – it’s just what you do to work. Being conscious of taking breaks and sitting periodically is key, but it’s totally doable.

  2. Caryl Anne

    I’m sure switching to a standing desk would irritate and bother the back, but this could be prevented and helped with the use of an anti-fatigue mat. I loved having these mats in place when I worked in retail and had to stand in one spot for the majority of the day. They definitely help! Thanks for sharing!


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