Outstanding: A Look at The Standing Desk Movement

It’s been about three months since I started doing the majority of my work at a standing desk…and I’m not the only one that’s been giving it a go. The standing desk working arrangement has been tried and tested by several highly-regarded web personalities:

“In all, I’m really happy to have made the change and recommend that people try standing at least a little bit throughout the day. The increased energy and focus is worth the effort, even if the long-term health benefits don’t turn out to be so major.” – Corbett Barr (via zenhabits)

“Weighed in at the end of week 2 of standing desk plus eating well, and I’m down 3 pounds—no gym, just standing and doing my regular walking about town. Pretty happy about these results so far.” – Gina Trapani

“I got used to the standing desk after a few weeks. I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s easier to take coffee breaks because I’m already up…” – Marco Arment

“The thing I was most worried about was typing. But the change in height doesn’t effect the use of my hands on the keyboard or at all. I thought that it would be less comfortable to type and use my computer, but there is no change.” – Shawn Blanc1

“I began working standing up a few years ago to help alleviate a back issue I was having, caused primarily from sitting too long with bad posture in an unsuitable chair. Sure I was in decent shape, stretching, and running 3.5k every other day. But back muscles aren’t meant to be frozen in an unnatural, hunching, curving position for an extended period of time (even in a good chair, like the Aeron I was using).” – Dan Benjamin

“I’m pleased to say that after start­ing the exper­i­ment Mon­day morn­ing at 9am, I pushed through the entire week, only sit­ting about 1.5 hours in total dur­ing the work­day, and with­out any ill effects. In actu­al­ity, I found that cer­tain things imme­di­ately improved.” – Jesse Noller2

But the movement to a standing desk hasn’t worked out for everyone:

“After three months of using a standing desk, I came to a realization: I’m a lazy bastard who likes to sit down while writing.” – Seth M. Baker, Happenchance

…and for some the movement is still being…well…moved.

We Live Simply – Standing Desk Update from Jonathan Blundell on Vimeo.

The renewed popularity in the standing desk may seem limited in scope (i.e. those who either pioneered, are well-known or follow the lifehacking sector of the web, coders, self-professed geeks, etc. are its biggest proponents and adoptees), it is becoming more mainstream, much like the lifehacking sector itself.

The Art of Manliness has put together an impressive history of the standing desk, an article that — just by being written and published — further indicates the rise in popularity of the standing desk. The New York Times has even got in on the standing desk movement. Plus, with infographics hitting the web touting the benefits of standing over sitting and sites like BoingBoing featuring standing desk workstations on a regular basis, there appears to be somewhat of a standing desk renaissance going on.

But why?

Jeff Field contests that it is the health benefits:

“Just like many people (myself included) see their weight related conditions go away immediately after weight loss surgery, my tail bone pain went away entirely when I started to work standing up. The only time it returned was when I had to sit for a meeting, or when I would go home and sit in front of my desk there. It made a huge difference since standing at my desk gave me the strength I needed to stand other places. I was always the first guy to find a chair, and now I was the one who didn’t want to sit, because standing was actually so much less painful.”3

My friend Steve Kamb of NerdFitness expands upon those sentiments:

“When you factor in slouched-over shoulders, a weakened lower back, a jacked up spine, and that hunchback look that we all adore (not), sitting in an office chair all day pretty much renders our body useless.”

It is through that kind of evangelizing that the standing desk is gaining traction among those who spend hours at their desks every day. The standing desk is to the sitting desk as Apple is to Microsoft. Sure, there are more people using sitting desks, but the multiple benefits of working standing up is beginning to take hold — and becoming a more fashionable and forward-thinking way of doing work.

Perhaps the best thing about the standing desk/sitting desk argument is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are plenty of hybrid designs on the web that people are using, and I still do some work sitting down when I feel it is warranted or am simply too tired to still stand on my own two feet.

At first I was able to stand for about 2 hours straight4, and I was adding an hour per day each week up until I able to stand up to 6 hours per day doing work if the need arose. That need rarely arose. I try to take breaks every 3 hours, and over the course of a workday I’d be standing for 6 of the 9 hours I put in some writing time.

Working at my standing desk has allowed me to take actual breaks, something that was less frequent when I sat down at my desk to work. I’d often bring snacks and drinks to my work area and would occasionally go so far as to eat my lunch at my desk when I had the comfort of a chair at my disposal. Now, I take time to step away from the work and recharge my batteries. I’ve found it’s made me more productive over the long haul.

Setting up a standing desk can be as simple as elevating your current working area with boxes, crates or even books. The range of styles and arrangements are as varied as the people who use them. Pat Dryburgh’s Simple Desks has shown some pretty slick standing desk setups, such as this one and these. There are also sites where you can pick up ready-made standing desks, like the GeekDesk or some of the Anthro solutions.

(Personally, when I finally get a full-fledged in-home office, I want to be rocking something like this.)

I really have embraced the standing desk setup, and can’t imagine not spending a good portion of my day standing while working. In fact, the greatest personal discovery that has come from my standing desk experiment is that I have more creative energy while developing my work at the new work setup. That alone has made the shift incredibly worthwhile.

There’s nothing really standing in your way from shifting to a working space that can really level up your performance. So take a stand and give it a try — a combination approach is the ideal way to get started and if you can make it a habit and give it a chance, you’ll see that the results can be…outstanding.

1 Jesse’s article is pretty darn impressive and deserves a thorough reading. He’s really spent some serious time on this subject. Also, Josh Smith has compiled an excellent standing desk resource worth checking out.
2 Shawn has offered more thoughts on his own standing desk experience a couple of months after giving it a go. He has mixed feelings about it, but I think he’s sticking with it nonetheless. Perhaps even mixing it up like I do.
3 Via Brooks Review
4 To be fair, many of the jobs I’ve had in the past required me to be on my feet for much of the day.