You’ve likely seen articles on the pros and cons of using a standing desk. Some are positive like this Wired article calling sitting the “smoking of our generation.” Others are neutral to negative like this U.S. News report that standing desks do more harm. This is not an article to convince you to stand but to share my thoughts after using standing desks off and on for over five years. I’ve used cardboard popups that retrofit any desk, homemade retrofit systems, hand crank stand up desks, and most recently motorized standing desks, so have a wide range of experience. I’ve also used a cycling desk and an under desk elliptical.
Get a mat
You are going to need a standing desk mat and you’ll find no shortage of options. I really like ErgoDriven’s standing mat. It is the right size and has a bunch of angles, edges, and a ball in the middle to keep your posture changing all day long. With this mat in particular, I would recommend going barefoot. For some with particularly interesting foot biospheres, your office mates may prefer that you don’t. The picture to the right from their website shows someone with shoes using it. I have the full sized version though I also see they offer a mini version for folks with limited space. If you need something cheaper, you can hit up your local Costco and pick up a kitchen anti-fatigue mat. I’ve bought one on sale for about $40 and it works great…you just won’t get to shimmy around all day over edges and bumps. The cheapest anti-fatigue mat I’ve seen on Amazon runs about $40.
Work through the aches
When I first started using standing desks, I’d go home with a few more aches and pains. Push through it. They go away as your muscles adjust. What is happening is you are simply using muscles in ways that you are not used to and they are going to need to get stronger which is one of the reasons why you need to be standing more than sitting in the first place. If you like learning new stuff, give muscle fatigue a read. I must admit for years when told No Pain, No Gain, I thought sure…I’ll take the no gain. The pain just means you are getting stronger, and the discomfort will pass.
Focus on Adjustability
After using so many different systems, I really don’t care what kind of stand up desk I’m using as long as I can set up my work area with an external monitor, external keyboard, and ergonomic mouse, all at the right height. I recommend that whatever setup you use, that you can safely place all of the gear you need at the exact height you need to achieve and move between sitting and standing with relative ease. You can use an online calculator to estimate the height you need. For me and my average 6 feet height, my recommendation is 44 inches. If you use shoes and a standing mat, you may be a couple of inches taller than your height. Regardless of what the calculator says, you may need to adjust up or down based on your unique body. There is just too much variation in our arm lengths. Again the key here is the ability to move between sitting and standing with relative ease. If you need to crank 100 turns to move between positions, that may not be incentive enough to stand for instance.
Consider chair alternatives
I once backed my desk close to a wall and then leaned on the wall from time to time. That was a really comfortable leaning wall chair! You may not be able to lean on things but there are leaning chairs that may be a comfortable option. We reviewed the Mogo Portable Standing Chair. Here’s a pic to the right of our founding editor Jason taking a Mogo outside of the office. If you want just one chair that can be used when you are sitting and when you are standing, check out Varidesk’s adjustable standing desk chair. The seat base is small so you’ll still get a ton of movement and motion. We haven’t tested one but some people also swear by wobble stools.
Weave in Productivity Music
One thing I’ve noticed is that standing adds some mental overhead. When you sit, you sit. When you stand there’s a bit of mental work going on to keep things going. It’s not much but for some like myself, it could be more distracting than simply sitting. I would recommend trying some music. My personal favorite right now is brain.fm. If that doesn’t work for you, consider soundtracks from the gaming industry. They are designed to keep you alert and focused.
Get on your butt
Even if you aren’t tired, there are times when sitting makes more sense. It could be the type of work you are doing that requires detail and precision eye-hand coordination. Some surgeons, for instance, sit while doing delicate surgery. Don’t push yourself too much. Find time each day to stand and find time each day to sit. When I had my cycling desk, I would write emails and read news while cycling and virtually nothing else. Point here is to notice which postures are optimal for which kinds of work and optimize.
Given what I know now and my experience, I will have standing desks for the rest of my career.