Like a lot of people these days, I spend a good portion of my day using a computer all day while sitting on my ever-widening ass and not really getting a chance to move around much more than the occasional trip to the kitchen for an extra doughnut or to top off my sugar-infused cream-laced coffee. The few times I do get a chance to actually stand up and walk around usually only last for a few minutes at most while I navigate my way to someone’s office or conference room where the chairs are even more plushy and inviting than my own office chair. Walking around actually seems like a pretty novel mode of transportation on some days, which has had me wondering for a while now if there wasn’t a healthier way to do things.
Just for the Health of It
Of course, I’m not the first person to be wondering if I was sitting around on my butt too long. The New York Times has actually had a couple of different articles advocating standing or walking at your desk instead of sitting but the problems associated with sitting down all day have been documented elsewhere as well. Some of these reports have brought up the notion that simply standing all day long instead of sitting all day long not only uses more muscles and burns more calories, but can also lead to some pretty impressive weight loss.
A board and a few crates gave me a cheap standing desk with more desk space… which I managed to junk up in a matter of minutes. Weight loss is my primary goal in this experiment. I currently weigh about 280 pounds and I’m about 6′ 1″ tall. According to my BMI chart (25 is healthy) I should either grow and extra 16 inches taller or I should lose 100 pounds.
A lot of people who try a standing desk complain about back pain and joint issues due to sitting down all day. I generally don’t have those problems. Other than being a fat (okay, obese) lump and generally feeling a little too stiff for my 38 years, I don’t really have too many health complaints… yet. That’s part of the reason why I’m trying the whole standing at my desk thing: to prevent future problems.
I know that standing up all day instead of sitting down all day will take some getting used to, so I’m planning to give this a try for a full month at my office to see if it’s really a viable option.
The Standing Desk
Intrigued by the idea of losing weight without actually doing anything more than standing around all day appealed to me. But to do this properly I would need a standing desk of some sort because, clearly, standing at a current desk and trying to use a computer wasn’t going to cut it. I briefly thought of somehow attaching a neck strap to my keyboard so that I could type as though I was holding some sort of accordion or playing some sort of electric keyboard, but my employees begged me not to be too much of a jerk.
Standing desks actually have a pretty long history and a lot of artists, writers and powerful world leaders have used and have advocated doing most of their work while standing. I mean, c’mon, Donald Rumsfeld used a standing desk and look at where he is today!
The types and variations of standing desks range from beautiful and solid pieces of custom-made furniture to adjustable modern-styled office desks to motorized adjustable desks which can be used for both sitting or standing. The one trait that most standing desks seem to share is a remarkably high price. Adding a motor or any sort of mechanization to a simple standing desk seems to, unreasonably, add thousands of dollars to the price tag. That being said, there is are some somewhat affordable automated standing desks over at Geekdesk.
Making A Standing Desk
Most DIY standing desk projects seem to be built in home offices, but I don’t spend eight hours of my day working at my desk at home. I work in an office, but I still wanted to try a standing desk. That means that any sort of standing desk experiment would have to meet these two requirements:
1. Be relatively cheap and easy: There’s no point in building a complex and expensive standing desk on the off chance that my employer doesn’t like it or wants to take it away (they’re pretty cool about things like this, but you never know).
2. Be temporary: With constant office moves and an uncertainty of me actually liking working at a standing desk, I wanted something that I could take down pretty quickly if I had to.
To make my standing desk I took a lot of measurements about approximately how high up I would have to lift my desk surface when I was standing up to make it comfortable for typing as well as for looking at my two glorious monitors. For me, that magic number was about 14 to 15 inches. It took me a while to find something cheap and workable that would put a desktop surface at the right height, but finally I put together all the pieces I needed:
1. Laminated board (48 inches wide by 24 inches deep) from The Home Depot – $9
2. 4 Plastic Locker Crates from Wal-Mart – $20 (yes, I hate Wal-Mart as much as anyone, but they’re all I could find that were exactly the right height)
3. Bar stool – $32 from Target, only marginally better than buying from Wal-Mart.
Here are my detailed instructions: Put the 4 crates on the desk. Put the board on top of the 4 crates. Done.
They’re not bolted on or tied together or anything. Again, this is meant to be a cheap (and somewhat temporary) standing desk. If I stick with the idea I could see where tying everything together will work better. The computer monitors and other junk on my desk, combined with the weight of the board, has enough weight to keep the whole desk relatively steady. Granted, I really can’t lean against the desk too much or I could shift things, but the crates have a wide enough surface area that things aren’t going to topple over with a quick bump.
One other criticism: my monitors are too low. They were too low when I was sitting down, too. I might go all wild and crazy and try to find another smaller crate or box to put them on in the upcoming weeks.
Just to be sure, here are a few other people who built their own standing desks:
Kyle Cordes – He built a standing desk by adding two wooden stilts to the bottom of his desk. Clever.
Lifehacker – Here’s an uber-cheap “standing desk” though I’d argue it’s really more of a laptop stand than an actual desk. Reach down to put down your coffee or write on a piece of paper is pretty inconvenient in this set-up.
Web Worker Daily – He essentially built his own desk with 2x4s.
I’ve also seen people use a board laid across some saw horses, boxes stacked on a table and cheap metal frame or plastic book cases (with the keyboard on one shelf, the monitor on another). A standing desk seems to really work much better with a stand alone computer and monitor rather than a laptop simply because you have to look down all the time because the monitor seems pretty low when you use a laptop on a stand-up desk.
My Month Long Standing Desk Experience
I chose to put my standing desk together during my lunch one Thursday afternoon because I wanted to kind of “ease” into the whole idea of standing all day. So on my first day I only spent about 3 1/2 hours really standing and working, but those hours were interesting. My back felt fine, but I found myself shifting my considerable weight from one leg to another an awful lot after the first hour or so. I was almost antsy. I turned on some tunes and found that I tapping my foot, while standing, help me feel as though my legs were solid dead weight.
I sat down only a few minutes each hour, usually for a reason other than just rest. One time I had to sort through my desk files and it was just more convenient to sit down and another time I had someone come into my office and chat for a few minutes and I felt like an idiot standing there while she sat in the guest chair next to me.
Using this method (crates and a board) I have essentially made a “double-decker” desk so I have a lot more surface area than I once did. I haven’t quite figured out how to configure things.
By the end of the first few hours the bottom of my feet were hurting and my calves were tense, but I was otherwise pretty okay. I found that I had some trouble getting used to the idea that this was “work” and not just some novel new thing to play with. By the time 5 o’clock rolled around I found that the idea of standing and working was feeling comfortable and almost natural, if not for the fatigue I felt in my legs.
My first full day of using a standing desk brought me to a realization: I like using the standing desk, but a short 5 minute break every hour or two is also helpful. To that end I went out to Target and bought a bar stool, so I can sit back and relax from time to time, but never more than a few minutes at a time. I even ate lunch standing up today and found it to be pretty comfortable. If anything, I use the bar stool’s lower bar to rest my foot on as I shift back and forth. My feet still hurt, but generally my back is okay.
My office is out of the way at the end of a long hallway, so the other people in my office don’t regularly see me at my desk. But now the buzz is around that I have a standing desk so everyone is stopping by to look and ask me what it’s like in the same tone of voice one might use to ask a serial killer what human flesh tastes like.
Mentally, I’m finding that it’s almost more natural than sitting down. I’m definitely more focused on getting things done, but I’m not sure if that’s because this is all so new or because I’m standing up. I’m more apt to walk around and ask a question of someone in my office rather than using the phone or email.
Next week I’m in a lot of all-day meetings, so I’m not sure how much real standing desk time I’ll get. It might be kind of good for me to slowly transition into this change.
As I mentioned before, this was the week when I had a lot of meetings and events that were actually outside of my own office, so I didn’t really spend a lot of time standing at my desk at all. I sat through several long software sessions in conference room and I have to admit that I found myself needing to stand up after sitting still for an hour or two. I’m wondering if standing up at work all day will eventually make sitting down for even relatively short periods of time (less than an hour) less comfortable.
On Friday of this week I did end up spending most of my day in the office and it was still quite a task to stand for most of the day. I think it’s a stamina thing, as I can feel my body getting a little tired from “working” all day. Next week is a full week of standing for me, so that will be interesting.
This was my first full week of standing at a desk. While I’m pretty comfortable standing and working, I’m still finding that my feet and legs are getting tired pretty quickly. I’ve adopted a “sit for 5 minutes” every hour rule, just to give my body a little bit of a rest. I was hoping to be able to go a little longer, but so far that simply hasn’t happened.
I’m definitely not feeling as tired as night as I once was, which is a good thing. I guess standing all day does count as some sort of exercise because I can feel the muscles in my calves becoming a bit more tense after a long day.
I’m two months into my cheap standing desk experiment and I think I’m going to stick with it for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the things I’ve learned while using a standing desk at work:
Having A Flexible Office Setting is Helpful: I built my own standing desk with plastic crates and a piece of wood, so it didn’t exactly look like a professional piece of office furniture. Fortunately, I work in an office that’s more of a “production” area and not really meant to be a show piece. My managers generally don’t mind what my office looks like as long as there is nothing too offensive or silly. Likewise, my office workers are also fairly laid back and don’t particularly care that I spend most of my day standing. I’m pretty sure OSHA might have a comment or two about my desk at this point, but I am planning to tie the whole thing together with a few lag bolts and drilled holes at some point. That being said, I haven’t had any stability issues or even much wobbling with desk.
Go Cheap Before You Go Expensive: I’m glad I was able to build my stand-up desk for under $100 to give the whole thing a try. I can’t see dropping $800 or more on a professional standing desk without trying it out for a few weeks to see if it really fits your workstyle.
Give It Time: For some people it only took a week or two for them to get totally used to having a standing desk. For me it was more like a month. I just couldn’t get used to standing all the time and my legs and feet were hurting way more than I thought they should. Around the four week mark I noticed myself standing and working for a few hours at a time without even thinking about sitting. Once I reached that point it remained easy and preferable to sitting all day. I also found that better shoes really helped my feet feel better, though I personally think those Dr. Scholl’s Gel Insoles are pretty useless. To paraphrase Rainier Wolfcastle’s experience as Radioactive Man: “My feet! The insoles do nothing!”
Sitting Still Feels Good: Don’t get me wrong, I still like sitting down, and I still do sit down on the bar stool I bought for five to 10 minutes from time to time. I actually prefer standing while eating lunch or nibbling on a snack, but I do like sitting when I have some really mindless web surfing to do. I have found that while I do enjoy sitting down in short meetings or someone else’s office, I don’t particularly like sitting down for long periods of time anymore. I have about a 30 minutes tolerance for sitting before I start to feel antsy or just uncomfortable.
Bend Your Knees and Keep Moving: One of the standing desk articles I stumbled across did mention bending your knees, and that does really help when you start to feel a little fatigued. I’ve generally found that standing still like a statue for long periods of time is uncomfortable so I tend to wiggle and sway and generally stay much more active through fidgeting than I normally do when I’m just sitting. I still have some lower back twinges from time to time and I usually take that as a sign that I’ve been standing too straight and rigid for too long and I need to bend and flex a little bit.
Weight Loss and Feeling Good: I’d like to report that I’ve lost ten pounds from using a standing desk! I’d like to report that, but I can’t. In fact,I don’t think I’ve actually lost any weight at all. I do feel more energetic (especially in the afternoon) when compared to sitting at a desk all day. I do move around more while at my standing desk, but I don’t really think I’m burning all that many more calories. There are also a lot of claims about feeling more mentally engaged and focussed, but I haven’t found that to be true. I still putz around a bit when I’m in front of the computer and I still day dream and get pretty scattered from time to time. The first few days may have made me feel alert due to the novelty of it, but using a standing desk will probably not help you lose 100 pounds a year or turn you into a super-thinker who can solve the world’s problems.
And while I rather enjoy having a standing desk at work, I don’t foresee myself using a standing desk at home anytime soon. I don’t work for long periods of time in front of the computer (I do putz around and play video games for long periods of time) and I also have kids who play games on my PC from time to time. They’re still young, so they obviously couldn’t use a standing desk made for a full adult. That being said, if I ever move to a different type of career where I work from home then I would probably consider professional standing desk that would allow me to sit or stand depending upon my application.
Do you have a standing desk you made yourself? Send me photos or post a link! I’d love to see more…