Tools of The Trade: Stand-Up Desk

This is the first of what might turn into a series of posts about tools and tricks I’ve found handy for my work. I figured I’d start with the thing most people would notice first on walking into my office: my standing-height desk.

I switched to working on my feet in the summer of 2010, so if you’re wondering whether I stole the idea from ├╝ber-geek Gina Trapani, I didn’t. While I was ahead of that high-profile example, I’m hardly a pioneer.

In my case, the desire to stand grew out of a simple need for a new chair. While wasting way too much time shopping for one, I stumbled on the stand-up desk idea, and liked it immediately. Rather than buy a new chair, I could simply adjust my desk and dispense with the seat entirely.

Like Gina, I’m fortunate enough to own an Ikea “Jerker” desk, a brilliantly designed piece of furniture that the company has since discontinued. An afternoon’s work raised everything to the appropriate level. Most of the time involved unplugging, removing, then reinstalling my computer and its connected peripherals. I also borrowed a tall stool that was sitting around the house, so I could take occasional breaks from standing while building up my “work legs.”

Standing height desk.

This is where I take a stand.

After the first two weeks, my endurance was up to about four hours. Within a few months, I could stand for most of the day without really noticing. It’s just the way I work. I wasn’t doing this for the exercise, but gained some leg strength nonetheless; my comfortable bicycling pace increased a gear or two. I’ve also lost the pain that used to creep into my spine after a long day of sitting, and my computer is above the easy reach of a six-year-old child, a feature that’s quite handy in my house.

The transition wasn’t painless. I needed the stool a lot at the beginning, and it’s still useful from time to time. I also discovered early on that long periods of standing demand comfortable footwear. My office is uncarpeted, so anything less padded than tennis shoes gets tiring pretty fast. The exact height of the desk also seems to matter more now than it did when I was sitting. Belt height is perfect for working at the keyboard. Writing by hand, however, calls for a surface closer to the bottom of my ribcage, so on the rare occasions when I do that I sit on the stool and lower it a bit.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this arrangement. I’m not planning to invade Iraq anytime soon, but for the less complex – and generally more successful – projects I do, a high desk works quite well. It seems to make me focus more on what I’m doing and find fewer distractions. In other words, it makes me a more upstanding worker.