Four Things I’ve Learned after One Year with a Standing Desk

I had been reading about standing desks for two or three years, and was convinced it was the way to go.  But something was holding me back.  Then one afternoon in late September 2012, I snapped.  I opened several web pages about how to size a standing desk, and then took out a ruler and started measuring my office.  One the way home from work, I stopped by Home Depot and spent $13 on some cheap pine–a 6 foot long 1 by 12, and a couple of 8 foot long 2 by 2’s.  That evening I spent an hour in the garage trimming the wood to size and assembling my rudimentary standing desk.  The next morning I arrived at work early and set everything up.  It took some getting used to–OK, a LOT of getting used to–but there’s no way I’ll ever go back to a “sitting” desk as long as I have the option.

After more than a year of using a standing desk, here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Standing Desk Setup

Standing Workstation: Dual monitors, speakers for the computer, a second set of speakers for the iPod, and a rug mouse pad that really ties the room together.


1. Most People Get It, But Some Never Will

Be prepared: when you first start using your standing desk, you’re going to get a lot of comments.  The comments I got tended to fall in three main categories:

  • 20% of the people get really excited.  “Oh, wow, you’re using a standing desk now!  That’s awesome!  So cool!  I’ve been reading about these!  How do you like it?  Do you realize how healthy this is supposed to be for you?  I’ve been wanting to try this for so long!  Where can I get a desk like that?”  Even months later these people were often still excited about it, asking me if I still liked it, and reminding themselves that they still need to do it themselves.
  • 75% of the people acknowledge it and then move on.  “Oh, you’re using a standing desk now…”  And then the conversation quickly shifts to whatever they came in to my office to talk about in the first place. The issue of the standing desk never comes up again; it just becomes a normal part of the everyday office landscape.
  • 5% of the people just don’t get it.  “Dude, what the hell are you doing?” is usually how the conversation starts, accompanied by a look of complete and total dismay on their face.  So I launch in to “Standing Desks 101”, explaining what it is, the health benefits, etc.  The entire time, the dumbfounded look never leaves their face.  The conversation usually ends with the person staring blankly at me and stating ”…Dude, WTF?”  They just don’t get it, and probably never will. To them, the aliens have landed, and they’ve infected my brain with insane off-world ideas about how to work and live.


2. The First Week Is Brutal 

I had heard people say that when you first start using your standing desk, you’re going to hurt; that after 4 or 5 days, you’ll hit rock bottom; and that then things will slowly start to get better.  That was my experience exactly.  After my 4th day, I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  That night, several hours on the couch and several glasses of wine did little to help relieve my pain.  But the next day, I came back, stood all day, and felt just a little better.  And the day after that was a little bit better.  And so on.

A few coping strategies:

  • Take breaks.  A few of the office jerks might come by and see you sitting next to your standing desk and make snide comments about how you can’t handle it, but remember, they aren’t trying to stand all day–you are!  So sit down for half an hour, especially early in your trial of your standing desk.  Even better, if you need to take a short break, GET OUTSIDE.  Walk around the building, or sit down outside with your laptop and do some work.
  • Take care of your feet.  Wear quality shoes.  Wear good socks.  Buy yourself some nice insoles.  Take your shoes off for part of the day.  And probably the best thing I did for my feet was spend $20 on a gel mat at Home Depot–it made a huge difference, immediately.
  • Move your legs.  This is easy if you bought (or hacked) one of those standing desks with a built in treadmill.  But even without a treadmill, you can work your legs while you stand. Move around.  Change position often.  If you’re not self conscious, turn up the music and dance.  Put a small platform or box underneath your desk so you can lift one foot on it from time to time.  And don’t lock your knees!


3. You Can Do It Cheaply But Still Go In Style

Sure, you can spend many hundreds of dollars on a pretty awesome standing desk, but many people hack one together with an old shelf laid on top of some boxes.  I even saw one online where the guy used soda cans to prop up his desk.

A little research revealed a guy who used standard parts from Ikea to build a stylish and stable standing desk for under $20.  My first standing desk–the one  made for $13 worth of cheap pine and a few screws found in the garage–proved that I could do it.  But it was rickety and, frankly, ugly.  It was time for a serious commitment to the life of the standing desk–so off I went to Ikea.

The guy in the example above built this standing desk using an Ikea LACK side table ($10), two brackets, and a shelf.  But the side table wasn’t going to work with my dual monitor setup.  After some thinking, I figured out that I could buy the LACK coffee table for $20 (which would provide more than enough room for both monitors) and two brackets for $3 each.  As a bonus, the LACK coffee table comes with a shelf, which I repurposed as a keyboard shelf.

It took all of about 10 minutes to assemble my new, sleek standing desk, including the time to measure and cut two small notches out of the shelf so it fit between the legs of the coffee table.  Not only is the new desk stylish, it’s also solid as a rock.  If you have an Ikea near you, you can do this for about $26.  And with all the money you save by not buying a standing desk that costs hundreds of dollars, you can treat yourself to some of those amazing Swedish meatballs.


4. It’s Easier Than You Think

When I was first trying to get used to using a standing desk and it hurt to stand, I used to tell myself this:

“When you were sitting all day, you’d go home with a sore back.  Now you stand all day, and you go home with sore legs/feet.  Sore legs/feet are much better than a sore back.”

And that’s really the point: at the end of the work day, if you feel like you just ran five miles, that’s a good thing.  If you feel like you need spinal surgery, that’s a bad thing.

If you’ve been thinking about switching over to a standing desk, I highly recommend that you take the plunge.  What have you got to lose?  I lost 10 pounds in the last year–not all of which is directly attributable to use of the standing desk, but it’s certainly one important factor.  And as you saw above, it’s something you can do on a budget, without sacrificing quality and style.

If you do try it, most of all, stick with it.  If you stick with it for a while, you’ll start to find that it’s actually more difficult to sit than t stand.  If I’m in a long meeting, I start to get really sore from sitting. I even eat my lunch standing at my desk now.  And working in my home office, where I’ve not yet upgraded to a standing desk, I can really feel it in my back after an hour or two.  Uh-oh, time for another trip to Ikea…

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One thought on “Four Things I’ve Learned after One Year with a Standing Desk

  1. I definitely recommend everyone try a standing workstation for a couple weeks. If the budget is there, a height-adjustable desk can get most people through those first weeks (gradually turn up the volume on how long you stand each day) and allow for more positions to be cycled through the day. I stand about 80% of the time and use a perching height seat for the rest. This way neither my back nor my feet/legs hurt at the end of the day – I need some leg energy to bike home!

    (And yes, I work for a company that lives and breathes active workspaces. It’s awesome. But I’ll put my name on this comment as well: @collinferry)

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