No butts about it: Is a sit-stand desk the answer for daylong computing?

Ever since I made the switch to full-time IT a couple of decades ago, I’ve found myself sitting in front of a computer almost as many hours a day as I lay in bed. And it actually got worse once my career took another turn toward writing and editing books, whitepapers, courseware, and other collateral. When I was a LAN admin I got to move around a lot, including climbing into shafts and ducts to lay cable. And when I taught technical courses as a Microsoft Certified Trainer, I spent a good amount of my time standing and presenting material to other IT pros. But writing and editing mostly involves staying in one place for extended periods of time, and over the years my butt has clearly suffered most from the inactivity that resulted.

A couple of years ago, however, I had to try something different because of a medical condition that made it difficult for me to remain seated for any length of time. The condition has since resolved itself, but at the time it posed a quandary: How could I continue working on a computer for hours at a stretch while being unable to sit in a chair?

That’s what turned me on for a while to a sit-stand desk.

Investigating a sit-stand desk

sit-stand desk
Amazon / Wobble

The basic idea of a sit-stand desk (also known as sit-stand, sit/stand, sit & stand, sit to stand, and so on) is that you will be able to change your posture frequently and effortlessly throughout your workday. Manufacturers of such desks suggest that this will increase your general well-being and energy level and thus improve your productivity as well. Some even claim their desks may help prevent or alleviate certain diseases and medical conditions like high blood pressure or even heart disease.

At a colleague’s suggestion, I decided to try this option for a while, though at first I would mainly be standing because of my medical problem. I asked around and found an IT pro friend who had previously bought and used a sit-stand desk but had currently retired it to the garage. The desk he loaned me was one of Varidesk’s offerings (I can’t remember exactly which model) and I tried it out for about a week. I liked the spring-assisted lifting mechanism that enabled me to raise or lower the desk almost effortlessly when I wanted to switch between sitting and standing position. My problem, though, is that I tend to have a lot of hard copy material by my side as I work on a computer, the reason being as I shared in another article here on TechGenix that my eyes grow tired easily when I look for long periods at a monitor screen. As a result I often like to print out research materials and have them beside me as I work, which means I also need pens and highlighters and other office materials handy. And the kind of mess I typically have on my desk didn’t fit well with Varidesk’s magical sit-stand mechanism. I’d give an A rating for this product, however, for IT pros who still have good vision.

sit-stand desk

The next solution I tried involved having two desks for myself, one traditional sit-down desk and a second taller desk I would use only for work I would do when I was standing. Another colleague I talked to happened to have a spare Bekant desk from Ikea, so I set up this adjustable desk behind my regular desk so I could spin around in my chair and stand up and use it. With a laptop on the standing desk and a PC on the sitting one, I was all geared up and ready to go. Since I’m generally a multitasker anyway and always have lots of balls in the air at any one time, I thought this approach would help me juggle the various projects I was working on.

I actually liked this second approach better than the adjustable sit-stand desk idea for several reasons. First, it gave me more usable workspace, not less (I’m taking into account my hard copy materials here). Second, there seemed to be less chance of me knocking over my coffee since I didn’t have to lift or lower anything, just spin my chair and stand up or sit down. And third, the second-desk option would probably be cheaper if I decided on it. Not that the Bekant is a cheaper desk, it’s overpriced as far as I’m concerned. But there are lots of other sources both online and brick-and-mortar for fair-priced adjustable standing desks including Staples and Office Depot. (I’m using Canadian links here since I live in Canada, but it should be easy for readers to find local equivalents.)

Plus if I later decided that I favored the standing desk over my regular sitting one, I could enhance and beautify my office environment with products like the SmartDesk 2 from Autonomous or a customized electric StandDesk Simple from StandDesk. Or as one colleague suggested I could go for something rugged like the Series 7 height adjustable desk from Steelcase. I even had a hardware geek at Microsoft suggest that I build my own with this table lift set from Progressive Automations. The possibilities boggles the mind…

What I finally decided upon

In the end when my medical condition cleared up, I decided I liked the idea of having two separate desks to work on, one low and one high, but I wasn’t getting much health benefit from spinning 180 degrees in my chair to alternate between them. I decided to move my two desks to opposite corners of my office so I’d actually have to get up and walk from one desk to another to switch between them. I put a computer on each desk and left my cell phone on my standing desk and my tablet for Skype conferencing on the other desk. I put my Nespresso machine on a table in a different corner and my tray of oatmeal snacks on top of the bookcase near the door. In other words, what I did was arrange my office layout including both work and break items in different places around the room to try and force myself to get up and move around as often as possible during the day.

It worked. I lost several unwanted pounds and felt generally healthier and more energetic. I was also at least as productive as I had been before. The only downside was that I quickly wore out my shoes.

Photo credit: Stand Up Desk Store

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