Do Standing Desks Make You More Productive?

It was an accident. I started to write while standing up. We’d moved back from China and most all our belongings were still at sea. Somewhere.  So I placed my laptop on the bookshelf and started to type. It was a bit improvised but I soon got the hang of it and managed to adjust to the correct height. Then something clicked. It felt right. I knew I ‘d never go back to a ‘normal’ desk again.

Benefits of Using a Standing Desk

Here’s more background info. After twenty years of sitting at a PC, I needed a change.
Creative Commons License photo credit: kelly cree
My back had given out. I mean it was in real pain.
Bending was close to impossible. I shuffled around the house like an old man. At first it was funny – well for those watching, anyway – but soon the novelty wore off.
Things changed after I used the standing desk. After all, I still had to work. Note that the desk didn’t heal my lower back pain but I’m sure it helped reduce the stress of sitting down all day at the PC.
Humans are designed for standing, not sitting.
So, after experimenting for a few weeks with the standing desk, the benefits I feel are:

  • I surf the web less, but write more.
  • I don’t slouch over the PC. Try to slouch standing up!
  • I feel more alert.
  • I no longer drift off in the afternoons. Hard to doze when standing.
  • There is less, if any, lower back pain.
  • My eyes hurt less. This may be as I’m squinting less at the PC and/or the light is better where I work now.
  • I feel sharper, more energized.

Tips For Using a Standing Desk

While there are no serious risks or issues:

  • Try to stand straight. Learn to stand in a comfortable position and one that feels natural. Avoid poor standing positions.
  • If you create a DIY standing desk, make sure it is sturdy enough to hold your PC and things. I’ve seen some on the web and would be concerned that they may topple over, possibly hurting others and/or spilling hot coffee. Best to avoid. Invest in the best equipment you can afford.
  • Balance your standing and sitting time. You can’t stand all day long (well, I can’t) so keep the desk and chair. As always, balance is the key.
  • Make sure your wrists are in a comfortable position to avoid stress on the joints.

Getting Started

Some find it difficult to use the desk at first. I didn’t feel it that hard though I’ve always like to walk, so maybe I had a slight head start. Not sure, tbh.
Jamis at 37 Signals says on TreeHugger that, ‘I noticed an immediate increase in my ability to focus on a problem for longer, and with greater clarity. When I was blocked by some problem, I was able to just walk away from the desk, whereas before the effort of getting up from my chair often made me prefer to just sit and stew in my frustration.”
So, if you’ve been chained to a desk for many years, take is slowly.
Give yourself two weeks to really get into it. Pains in your lower back will start to melt and your legs will get stronger.
I also found that I was more focussed. I got down to work faster. Surfing was fine, for example, but I didn’t enjoy it as much.

Famous People Who Use Standing Desks

Some of these include:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Winston Churchill

Where to get a Standing Desk?

Here in Europe, you can get them in IKEA. Not sure if you have those in the US.
Other options are to modify your current desk or get one made by a local carpenter. One compromise is to get him to use your existing desk and add sliders that let you move the desk up and down.
That way you can stand for a few hours and then, when tired, sit down again. Folks on the web have done this for about $150, some for much less.
Let me know if you try it and how you get on.

6 thoughts on “Do Standing Desks Make You More Productive?”

  1. Great post Ivan. I work from home, and I use the breakfast bar in the kitchen to alternate between sitting down at my office desk, and standing. When I'm on important conference calls I'll usually locate myself in the kitchen and stand, as I feel it gives me more energy.

    Regarding your back pain. What you have sounds very similar to what I suffer from. About 6 months ago I went to the physio about it, and it turns out that this is very common among office workers. My problem was all related to the tightness of my hamstrings, caused by sitting on my butt for years. After a few weeks of physio things greatly improved. I now have a set of stretches which I do for 5 minutes before work, and 5 minutes after, to keep the muscles loose.

    In about 6 months I haven't had any back problems. I used to be crippled after a 5 hour car journey to my parents' house. Last week I did a 12 hour flight to San Francisco and not a problem with my back.

    I'd advise to get it checked out if you haven't as my physio did say that a lot of people leave it too late to get the treatment.

    1. great to hear it's improving Frank!

      I have a standing desk at my work too – works well for me!!! And definitely, no dozing off or slouching!!! 🙂 and have to agree, less likely to go wandering surfing the web.

    2. Hi Frank,

      Must arrange to see the physio if things keep up, though they have improved quite a bit.

      I also work in the kitchen more now as we have a new high bar table that works really well. And, like you said, on calls it does make me feel more energised which has a positive knock-on effect with the caller.

      It's interesting to see others who've used these desks. Lincoln, Goethe, Hemingway and Donald Rumsfled

      Well, 3 out of 4 is not so bad!

  2. That's really interesting Ivan. I have a lower back problem that about 5% of the population have but don't necessarily know they have – Spina Bifida Occulta (sounds a lot more serious than it is but when the pain kicks in it really does)I could do Pilates which if done constantly does get rid of the pain – but I'm lazy 🙁 I find that if I sit at a desk upright it really hurts after a while – even sitting at a dinner table for long periods of time isn't good. However sitting on the sofa with the laptop on my lap I am ok – luckily I can be like this most of the time for the work I do. Standing for long periods of time does hurt too although I may have a go at your idea and see if it's any good for me. I seem to remember a brand new estate agency in London adopting similar stand up desks (or maybe it was just no chairs lol) years ago to increase productivity and I'm sure it was a success although sure we all thought outrageous at the time.

    1. Hi Sian,

      Must try Pilates as I heard great things about it. Yoga was/is great too but for whatever reasons (glued to the PC, maybe?) I don't seem to make time for it anymore. Shame as it really worked when I used it.

      Like Frank said below, I also use a raised table, like a bar top really, and work more on this. It certainly keeps me focussed.

      There is one downside to standing though, which is if you put all your weight on one side, then fatigue kicks in.

      As I write this, I'm trying to practice what I preach. Bit tricky after the second glass 🙂

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