Switching to a Standing Desk: Reflections and Hindsight

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

Now that I’ve been using a standing desk for a few weeks, I figured it was time to share some of what I’ve learned along the way. Here’s what stands out to me most:

Ease Into It

I was determined to make this work because I knew going back to my sitting-all-day routine was not an option. Neither was giving up my computer-related activities. But this do-or-die determination of mine also meant I didn’t cut myself enough slack. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand 8 hours the first day, somewhere in my head I still felt like allowing myself to sit at all would be a slippery slope. If I let myself sit it for 5 minutes, who’s to say I wouldn’t just give up and suddenly it’d become 5 hours again? Then where would my experiment be?

In retrospect, that was just me being dramatic – and unrealistic. Sitting down for an hour here or there during the transition period is not a failure, it’s necessary. If you are not accustomed to standing a lot, it will take some time to acclimate. Don’t try to go from being a chair dweller to a champion stander the first day. Or even the third day. Give yourself a couple weeks to make the transition – and listen to your body.

Shoot For An Even Mix

The experts seem to agree that splitting your day 50/50 between sitting and standing is ideal. There are health implications to standing too much, too, so you’ll want to experiment and find the right mix for yourself. When in doubt, always check with a trusted medical professional versus taking the advice of journalists and bloggers. ; )

While I was acclimating, there were times when I just wanted to sit. I was tired and wanted a different working mode for awhile. This is fine! Preferable, even. Give yourself permission to do this with the understanding that the goal is simply to generate more movement, not torture yourself. My early attempts at trying to stand for vast portions of the day only resulted in fatigue on my part. Since then I feel like I’ve achieved a nice equilibrium by designating certain activities as standing and others as sitting. It lets me shift back and forth throughout the day in whatever combination feels right.

Supportive Shoes Might Be a Necessity

As a former sitter, I predominantly wore socks or slippers in my office. Or bare feet in the summer. As a newly-minted stander, I found the lack of foot support to be too uncomfortable for long periods of time. Normally I hate wearing shoes indoors (it feels stupidly formal for one, but it also dirties carpets and tracks who-knows-what in from outside), but I compromised by using my indoor-only tennis shoes. They provide the necessary support and added cushioning that allows me to stand for long intervals of time. (I would heartily recommend the gel mat, too.)

I think my standing posture has also improved. I credit both the shoes and the gel mat, but also the fact that the IKEA hack is not the sort of setup you can lean on. If you purchased a real standing or adjustable-height desk, you’d be able to lean easily on the more sturdy, made-for-it structure, so I’d say this is just another reason to do the hack!

Resiliency, Resiliency, Resiliency

As if I needed another reason to marvel at the human body! When I decided it was important for my health to give a standing desk a try, both my mind and body adapted quickly to the new working arrangements. Sure, there were complaints and discomforts, but I’m betting I could have minimized that if I’d listened to my body all along and relaxed my militant approach. Some discomfort is normal and should be expected – it’s what happens whenever you push the body to work in a different way – but it’s also short-lived and strangely energizing.

Another benefit is becoming hyper-aware of when I’ve been sitting too long. I get achy and restless and my body almost propels me out of the chair and back into motion. The difference is I actually welcome it now.

A “New Normal” Seems Inevitable

Most of the time I don’t really notice I’m standing anymore (aside from the occasional sore knees I have to keep remembering to flex). When it’s time to do work or fun stuff on a computer, I can already feel my brain shifting into that mode. It’s almost as if sitting to use a computer is the weird thing now.

What’s ironic – though maybe not too surprising – is that standing up to use a computer has actually discouraged me from spending the entire day in front of one. I now spend more time reading and interacting with others and less time feeling chained to technology. It’s as though somewhere along the way I surfaced for air and realized that my world was not, in fact, all digital.

Productivity May or May Not Change

So far, standing has not affected my ability to do precision work on the computer. Nor did I really expect it to, since I can stand as still as I need to in order to control the mouse.

For projects that require lots of detail work (like illustration or retouching), I find that sitting works best. It’s tiring enough just being focused on something like that for an extended period of time, but when I added standing to the mix, it tired me out even faster. Better to leave one of those things out of the equation. That said, I also feel like this is one of those areas where everyone will have to determine their own preferences – there is no “one size fits all” here.

For example, articles written by journalists testing a treadmill desk all reported better mental productivity. They felt they could write more easily, as if the ideas were flowing simply because their bodies were in motion. For me, it’s just the opposite. In order to write, I need to be in a distraction-free space. Standing is a distraction. Then again, I haven’t tried walking and writing yet – perhaps there is something to that…

Hacks on The Hack

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the setup. I explained the basics of it, but it’s yours to customize as you see fit. You may not need rubber feet on the bottom of the table legs to keep the unit from moving around, but you may prefer to screw the shelf down onto the brackets instead of leaving it removable like mine. Or maybe you have two monitors, so you buy two LACK tables and place them side by side. The best part of a hack like this is you can keep evolving it to suit your needs, so have fun with it.

More Cowbell

The next piece I’m adding to my setup is an exercise ball “chair,” so that even on days when I prefer to sit, I can engage my core muscles and still generate bodily movement. Similarly, I really want to try the treadmill with the standing desk. I feel like that’s what this whole experiment has been leading up to (indeed, it was my original goal), and I’m curious to see how/if the dynamic of walking and working changes any of my results. Time will tell – stay tuned!

Do you plan to try a standing or treadmill desk? Let me know!

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