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Experiment Log No. 19 — Working standing up

In this experiment I make use of a standing desk for a few hours every workday. I want to see whether I feel more energized and healthy, as proponents claim I will. But I particularly want to see whether, while standing, I’m more inclined towards working than goofing off.

Read the original article about this experiment.

This experiment is two workweeks long, beginning January 26, 2015, and ending Feb 6, 2015. All updates are posted here.

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People have asked about The Desk I used:

JRV-2T

 

It’s called the Jarvis Desk, from Ergodepot (more info). A reader works for them and sent me one so I could do my experiment. It’s pretty slick– you can adjust it using electronic motors, to different heights kind of like radio presets. Mine is black but otherwise the same.

Experiment Log

Day 1: 1/26/2015

Okay, I just finished my first standing session. The first thing I noticed, when lunch was over and it was time to go to the standing desk for the first time, was that the idea of sitting seemed a lot more inviting than standing up. I’m not usually dying to get back in my desk after a nice lunch break, but in this case there was even more resistance. This is probably just due to unfamiliarity, but I thought I’d mention it.

Standing there for the first time, I felt very unsettled for the first few minutes. It seemed like I was supposed to be getting on with something else — as I said in the article, standing is usually something I only do temporarily, so it seemed strange to park myself there.

However, even while I was still feeling unsettled, I was working well. I didn’t feel super keen on working at first, but I felt even less keen on dicking around on Facebook. I think I clicked over to social media once during the afternoon, and didn’t stay long. I was pretty solidly in work mode and got a lot of good writing done.

Something else I noticed:  I like that it’s not such an ordeal to get up and then get back into working position. I can make tea and drink it without actually taking a break. I just go over there, I don’t have to get up and change “modes” consciously. Coming to the desk, as an act, is much easier. Sitting presents a physical and psychological barrier there in front of anything I must stand to do.

So I stood working from 1:00 to 2:30, had a half-hour meditation break, then stood from 3:00 to 4:15 or so, and now I’m sitting again for the rest of my workday. By the end of it my legs really wanted me to sit down. And man it felt great when I did sit. But overall I felt much more “with it” for the afternoon than I usually do.

It’s so new that I’m wary of reading too much into my experience so far. But it’s encouraging that I did feel more focused while writing, and that I was actually more productive.

Day 8: 2/2/2015

Standing seems to have become pretty normal already. I am clearly more productive while standing, at least when it comes to writing. I haven’t tried it for other aspects of my work. I’m sure part of the reason I’m able to work with less distraction is because I keep the desk clear of everything except my coffee or tea. There are no bookshelves, filing cabinets, remotes or phones within reach. My laptop is unplugged — I never stand for longer than my battery lasts, and this further reinforces the extremely tidy feel of my standing desk.

I haven’t been quite immune to distraction. I do catch myself flipping over to social media, more from the muscle memory of my mouse-hand than anything else. But these diversions only take a minute or two — just checking Twitter for mentions or Facebook for likes. But I can’t imagine standing here reading articles for half an hour, or the rest of the afternoon. That level of resignation requires a seat.

Originally I planned to spend the morning sitting and the afternoon standing, but I’ve begun to take a more free-form approach. I always begin my day at my sitting desk, and then at some point I migrate to the adjustable desk with my unplugged laptop. This gives me a new burst of energy and helps me refocus. So often I make the move when I notice I’m not getting much done, and so far it works.

I now keep a dining chair near the adjustable desk, and every hour or so I lower it down and have a good sit, maybe for an hour, maybe only twenty minutes.

It’s too early to say, but this dynamic kind of workday feels much better to me than my normal sitting-only slog, and I don’t imagine I’ll go back to sitting only any time soon.

Since the original post a week ago, there’s been a steady stream of comments from people who switched over and haven’t looked back. I understand why. There is a sense of having found something that’s been missing a long time. It seems obvious that we should do some of our desk work standing.

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Day 13: 2/6/2015

Two workweeks are already over. As some readers suggested, two weeks isn’t really long enough to learn everything there is to learn about what it’s like to stand at work, but I did learn the most important thing beyond a doubt: that there is something to it.

My main hope was that I would find myself less prone to distraction and other bad work behaviors while I was standing. I definitely was. Standing instills you with a sense of intention and “activeness” that sitting doesn’t. I did find myself surfing social media occasionally, but never for very long. It’s just not a comfortable enough place to totally drop your hopes for a good workday. A nice computer chair is, though.

But I also realized that my tendency to stay focused had a lot to do with how clean and tidy my standing desk is compared to the sitting one. My best work was done when it was bare except for my unplugged laptop. When there were other objects on the desk, there was a conspicuous loss of focus.

I started with fairly strict sitting and standing times, but quickly gravitated to a less formal system: I sat when I felt like it and stood when I felt like it, switching a number of times throughout the day. The desk I’m using is electronically adjustable, with buttons for height settings not unlike radio station presets.

One thing I didn’t take into consideration was monitor height. I use a laptop, and so it’s not possible for my keyboard to be at elbow level and my eyes to be at screen level at the same time. So I tried to keep my neck as though I were looking forward, and only tilt my eyes downward, at least until I made other arrangements. I didn’t have any problems but there’s no reason to wait until I do. I’m going to get a wireless keyboard and prop up the laptop to eye height.

As it stands now, it looks like working standing up is going to be a part of a normal workday now. It helps with focus, but also gives the day a bit of variety too. Shifting postures is a good way to get through those moments of tedium, where you feel adverse to continuing what you’re doing, but you still have a lot of work to do. It also adds a sense of freedom too. You don’t feel “parked” somewhere, bound to the grindstone; you can move around without hindrance.

If it’s an option for you, I highly recommend doing a standing experiment of some kind, or asking your employer about considering some kind of trial run. Trying out standing really makes it obvious how unnatural it feels to be confined to a seat for such a long period. We just didn’t notice, because whatever is normal for us becomes invisible to us.

The experiment is technically over, but I’ll continue to update this page informally as I discover more.

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{ 21 Comments }

Luci January 26, 2015 at 5:15 am

Sounds like a great experiment. Would love to see a pic of the desk and yourself standing at it.

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David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

I will add a pic very soon!

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Edward January 26, 2015 at 7:42 am

I’m all for this experiment, but I suspect two workweeks is too little time; perhaps one month. I’ve tried a variation of this… I didn’t know such desks were made…by placing my laptop on a hassock on top of my desk while I wrote. Very much appreciated the positive difference from sitting, and ‘m going to look into a proper standing desk.

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David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:38 pm

It probably is, yes. I just have it at two weeks because I’m going to be away that third week. I’m going to keep going after that, but I wanted to have a definite timeline in which I’m updating this log regularly.

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Patsy Roeder January 26, 2015 at 9:54 am

My watercolor / drawing teacher always stands when he is painting or drawing. I teach calligraphy and have found that sometimes I need to stand in order to have full concentration on the piece of work at hand. I’ll be very interested to see what you decide.

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David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:36 pm

I’m discovering how standing really changes how you approach something. So far it gives me a kind of active, “kitchen” feel, where I’m always alert and ready for the next step.

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Mike January 26, 2015 at 10:18 am

No treadmill, just a desk?

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David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:35 pm

No treadmill, no.

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jalie January 26, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I have one and will never go back … good luck, David … and wear comfortable shoes!

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David Cain January 26, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Good call. I stood on a blanket it socks today, but I’ll wear shoes tomorrow.

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John January 26, 2015 at 7:51 pm

No shoes!! You need an anti fatigue standing pad. The type they use for other standing jobs… Then go in stocking feet….. Also, you should alternate between standing and sitting much more frequently.. Maybe 5 to 8 minutes sitting and 20 to 30 minutes standing… Adjust to your taste… My employer just bought a bunch of Varidesk desks and pads.

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Nicole January 27, 2015 at 8:15 am

Great for you, I think it will be a benefit. I stand 6hrs a day and 9 on Saturdays. I also have a back that will try and throw me once a year so I am very carefull with what and how I do things. The point I’m trying to get to is I purchased a balance board and life is GREAT!! Healthy body, mind & spirit.

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Dawid January 28, 2015 at 8:40 am

David,
Since last fall, I’ve been reading your posts religiously (or should I say spiritually/agnostically?) and thank you for the thoughtfulness that permeates everything you publish. You inspired me to try the standing experiment, a mere two days after CNN featured an article about the dangers of sitting. Your blog post was the nail in my coffin, or rather, the nail extractor. I don’t like how lethargic I feel, whether I’m in the office or working from home. I don’t have the proper set up at home yet but I did move my comfortable, cushioned kitchen mat into my living room/work area, and it made a world of difference. I recommend you check out Ergo topo. I learned about it from a commenter (not officially a word according to some dictionaries) on the original blog post, and pre-ordered it. Anyway, I look forward to updates on your experiment. Best wishes of health and success. -Dawid

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chops January 28, 2015 at 11:48 am

I’ve been working at a standup desk for 3 years now and it’s been great. I’ve been more productive, faster, and best of all my back has never felt better. ( I’ve had a bad back for the last 15 years) Hope it works out well for you too.

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Elina January 28, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Hi David,
I’ve been working standing for over a year now due to my low back problems and just to mention I don’t have any special stand up desk. I just elevated my monitor and keyboard by putting them on two large carton boxes. I don’t have any special pad, I stand on the floor but I do wear shoes as I work in the office not home and it feels fine. However, I can imagine how it can be really helpful. Since I (kind of) didn’t have a choice in the beginning whether to stand or sit because it hurt me way more sitting than standing, I didn’t feel an urge to sit as often and even if I wanted to, it hurt me so I immediately stood up. From my experience I can tell you that I definitely got used to standing as my feet and legs got “trained” to it. I have an 8-hour work day and stand most of the time now, even though I don’t have as much pain sitting anymore. Also, I move around more often because as you mentioned it’s so easier since I don’t have to “switch modes”. I do feel like I am productive at most parts of my job which involve work on computer and less productive(or rather less comfortable) when I actually write something with a pen but I can imagine it would be more convenient with a real standup desk, not like my boxes :) I am looking forward to the updates on your experiment and I hope it will help me to decide if I should buy a standup desk or not now. Thanks David, I’ve been a big fan of your blog for the past year, so i mostly read it standing ;)

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Monty February 1, 2015 at 3:58 pm

any updates?

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Bella Green February 2, 2015 at 4:47 am

Hi David,
My experience of 40+ years as an artist who stands to paint is that it gives me more energy. I am 67 now and for a few years had a heel problem that forced me to sit to work. But is was no good in a regular chair as the emotional and physical energy felt too constricted. I finally found the Salli Swing stool from Finland and used it to perch, while almost standing, but with a good posture. That works, and sometimes I still use it. But my heels are better now and nothing beats standing to paint. I used to do this for about 8 hours a day. Now I need to pace myself but three hours is ok..a sit for a hour and then another standing session. Good luck with your experiment.

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Blasko February 4, 2015 at 12:37 pm

varicose veins … Papparapaaa

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Alma February 17, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Got mine over a month ago and the first two days were not a lot of fun at night. My shoulders and back ached. (I was used to slouching in my chair but my posture is great standing up; therefore, my back felt the difference.) I began standing about 70% of the day; sitting only for lunch and a wee bit more. By the third day, I was standing 90% of the time. I even have my lunch on my stand-up desk now. Having the ergo mat really helps. When I wear high heels, I remove them for most of the day. March 5 will be two months and my back and shoulders don’t hurt anymore. I worry about varicose veins and all, but I’ve not read anything to support that fear. I do take a “tai chi” stance of relaxing the knees and tucking in the butt. That takes concentration, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it. Every now and then I still catch myself either resting on one leg or locking knees.

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Jacky April 20, 2015 at 2:42 am

I couldn’t afford a “proper” standing desk so bought a pctabletote a few years ago (small table with extending legs that sits on my desk so I can switch from sitting to standing). I use a plug in keyboard and monitor with my laptop and just alter the arrangement a bit to make it work for sitting and standing – tilt the monitor and put a box that I keep next to my desk under the keyboard. Having a small table rather than boxes on my desk to support the monitor means I can leave it in place the whole time and use the space under it for paperwork if I’m sitting – I admit I don’t have a tidy desk!
I initially found that my hips seized up with extended standing, making it surprisingly painful to move away from the standing position. So now I use a fairly low profile wobble board to stand on. I can stand fairly still on it or have a rock/wobble as needed! Similar idea to the mat mentioned above but, again, a lot cheaper and multi-functional, I bought the wobble board for other reasons then found it worked for standing to work also. I probably still sit for about half the day but has to be better than for all of it!

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Caroline Driver February 10, 2017 at 2:44 pm

This must be an office worker thing. Try working in retail, where you only sit for tea breaks and lunch breaks. Back ache, plantar fasciiitis, hip ache. and if your shoes aren’t great, sore feet. Variety is probably the best option

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