Over the past 12 months, standing desks went from popular life hacking meme to eyeroll-inducing sign of a certain type of tightly-wound techie, similar to emptying your email inbox. Several people have asked me if I'm still standing. The answer is yes. Here's what I've learned from 365 days of being a professional stander.
Photo remixed from dno1967b (Flickr)
Last January I took apart my computer desk and rebuilt it at standing height. I've been standing at my desk every workday since. Just in my 2011 travels, I've seen standing desks everywhere from the offices of San Francisco startups to the White House.
Sitting is essential
My typical workday starts around 8 or 9am and wraps around 5 or 6pm. I don't stand the entire time. I stand all morning till lunchtime, and then stand again for a couple of hours after lunch. By 3 or 4pm, fatigue sets in, and my feet need a break. That's when I sit down at a small table I set up in my office or, if I want to put my feet up, push back in an old recliner I commandeered. I also sit at lunch, often sit during conference calls and TWiG, and sit to do paperwork or work on my iPad.
The point is: a standing desk doesn't mean you're standing for 8 hours a day straight. That's just not healthy. For me, standing a few hours a day has had its benefits and drawbacks.
The upsides of a standing desk
My back feels great. My posture is better than ever. My default work position is standing on flat feet, with my shoulders back, and my back slightly arched. I have a makeshift foot rest (a box of unsold books), and I often shift from one foot to another when my knees feel stiff. I lost 3-5 pounds in the first couple of weeks from standing alone. I'm way more active throughout the day, pacing, dancing, fidgeting. Because I'm used to standing all day at work, standing in line anywhere for long periods of time on weekends doesn't bother me in the least.
Thanks to my standing desk, I began naturally splitting activities up into active work (while standing) and passive work (while sitting). Since my legs and brain are fresh in the morning, I start my day by diving into the most effort-intensive work first, like coding and writing. By the afternoon I'm fatigued and ready to sit, so I use that time to process email, read Instapaper, catch up on Twitter and Facebook. Explicitly shifting gears like that helps my brain tackle the right kind of work given my physical and mental capacity at the moment.
The downsides of a standing desk
Ever since I got used to standing all day, sitting for long periods of time became uncomfortable for me. By the end of cross-country flights and even long movies, my back and backside feel stiff and achy. In the past 12 months I developed a silver dollar-sized case of spider veins on my right calf, just below my knee joint. It's not sexy. These are common for women my age, and both my parents had them, so it's difficult to say if I would have gotten these without the standing desk. Excessive standing (and sitting) are both known causes of spider veins.
The fatigue of a standing workday makes getting to the gym at the end of the day more difficult for me. When I was sitting all day, I'd feel so sluggish and sedentary I'd look forward to getting sweaty and exerting myself at the gym. At the end of a standing workday, you just want to sit down. For me, the gym has to happen in the morning, or it doesn't happen at all. While my daily calorie burn is definitely higher at the standing desk compared to sitting, standing at your desk is not a replacement for a good workout at the gym.
Finally, I work at home, alone in a room. Several people have told me that they don't want to be at the one standing desk in a sea of sitters at their office. I understand that. I'm not sure I'd pull this off in an office where I was surrounded by sitting co-workers and didn't have the luxury of two desks, one sitting, one standing.
That all said, once I got past the first couple of weeks, I haven't once considered switching back to a sitting desk full-time. Honestly, I barely give it a thought at all anymore. If you're considering it, here's how and why I switched to a standing desk.
One Year at My Standing Desk [Smarterware]