With Mobile Nations Fitness Month coming to an end, I just *had* to write a
quick long post on the "mobile health accessory" I use the most every day. That honor goes to my standing desk. I know, I know... you probably don't think of a desk when thinking mobile health, but my Anthro Elevate Adjusta does roll on wheels and move up and down, so it passes the mobile test as far as I'm concerned (granted it won't fit into my pocket that well when I leave the office).
The concept of standing at a desk while working isn't new. Many famous people in history like Leonard Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill reportedly preferred working while standing to help get those creative and writing juices flowing. Over the past couple of years there has been a lot of buzz about the health benefits of standing desks, driven by research that concluded the longer you sit, the shorter your life is (all other things being equal). I don't pay too much attention to research as I know it can be argued and manipulated pretty much any and every which way you want, but as someone who's been working at a desk daily since graduating university in 2004, the notion of being a little more active and vertical during the work day intuitively made sense.
How I Went From Sitting to Standing...
What I sit in when I'm not standing...
When I graduated university my parents asked me what I wanted for a graduation present. My older brothers both chose SLR cameras when they graduated (the non-digital kind back in their day). Instead of an SLR, I asked for a Herman Miller Aeron Chair (the famous dot com chair). I figured with a Business Management degree (specializing in Finance and Entrepreneurship in case you were wondering), I'd be spending a lot of my waking hours sitting by a computer. A more fitting gift than a camera would be the best chair my parents' money would buy! Over the years that followed my butt spent a lot of time glued to that Herman Miller. And my butt loved every minute of it and still does (it's pretty hard to stand all day long - I do still spend time sitting and would highly recommend that chair). As happy as my butt was, my scale did not enjoy all that luxurious sitting. Six years averaging 15+ hours a day in a chair takes a toll. I do work out a fair amount to keep the scale from tipping too far in the wrong direction, so overall managed to keep things in check, but I knew all that sitting wasn't helping the cause...
Demand to Stand
I continued to be a sitter, until May 16th, 2009, a day which forever changed the way I look at chairs. I was out for dinner with friends celebrating my 29th birthday. There were a bunch of us there, but down the table I heard two of my friends (Jared Cormier and Tom Kaminski to be precise) talking about some news report one had seen that said people who stand more during the day live longer. I missed the context of the conversation, didn't even know the original source, and didn't even care to follow up and ask for anymore details. But as I sat there eating my liver and onions, which were damn tasty, it clicked. Intuitively this idea made sense. I looked at my gut and it agreed (why do you think they call it a gut feeling?). That same night after dinner I went back home and re-jigged my computer desk into a poor man's standing desk using old glass tiling blocks and books that were lying around my basement, raising not only the desk but also the monitor and keyboard and mouse so everything was in relative alignment.
CrackBerry Kevin craftsmanship - the poor man's standing desk
It's not easy to go from sitting all day to trying to stand all day. I worked up the amount of time I stood slowly. My trick was to keep a regular height desk with a chair beside my homemade standing desk. It wasn't an efficient use of space, but it worked. I could stand and I could sit. I continued to use this dual desk setup for over a year while I began my research to find a professionally made standing desk.
Which Standing Desk Should I Buy?
Treadmill Desk, Geek Desk... What to choose?!
It took me a while to decide which standing desk to buy. Googling and searching around I eventually found a few options to consider, including the Treadmill Desk and Geek Desk which seemed to have some buzz behind them.
I quickly dismissed the notion of a treadmill desk. I actually tried building my own in my home gym on top of my treadmill to give it a whirl, and while it worked it was just too distracting for everyday work/office use. If I had a bunch of weight to lose it might make sense, but I was looking more for daily motion and activity than to walk myself skinny. Typing and blogging and talking and doing conference calls and podcasts just wouldn't work for me while walking.
The Geek Desk had a quite a lot of positive quotes on their website and I was actually going to order one, but when I tried it turned out they were sold out and had a waiting list. With a price tag under $1,000, it's a fairly affordable way to get into a quality standing desk. Heck, two Geek desks will still cost you less than a Porsche Design BlackBerry. And remember, if you end up hating an adjustable standing desk you can always just lower it and sit at it.
If there's one thing I hate, it's waiting when I've decided I want to buy something. Frustrated, I honestly thought about getting my own desk custom built to my specs. Having used my homemade desk for a year I had a lot of ideas for what I'd put into the ultimate standing desk.
My Anthro Elevate Adjusta Desk
Browsing around Anthro's website, I immediately fell in love with the Elevate Adjusta. Digging into the company's about page, it was clear they had a long history building high tech furniture and that they catered to industrial and professional installations (healthcare, etc.) with heavy duty stuff that was built to last. Industrial quality carries a premium price tag of course -- the model I ended up ordering per my configuration rang in at over $3,000 -- but I looked at this a long-term investment in both my productivity and my health. The way this desk is built it should last for 25+ years. Amortize the cost and it's really not *that* bad.
Ordering the desk online turned out to be a royal pain the butt, but thankfully I'd be standing soon. With no Canadian distributor at the time I couldn't complete the order online. Anthro's live chat support ended up being very helpful though and they pointed me in the right direction to arrange shipping and a customs broker and I ended up getting my desk delivered in a relatively short period of time. Assembly does take some skill. And as it is a desk, you're going to need two people - it's a big unit. Luckily my older brother, who's a super smart mechanical engineer, dropped by one night and he helped me put it together. By help me, I mean he did all the work and I watched. :)
Features That Matter
Be sure to watch my video at the top of this post to get a good look at the features of the Elevate Adjusta in action. Of course the big exciting feature are the motorized legs, which smoothly lower and raise the desk all the way from standing to seated positions.
While that's cool and useful, the feature I think is MOST IMPORTANT in a standing desk is the split level dual surface top. This is CRITICAL. If your desk only has a flat surface for both your monitor and keyboard/mouse to sit on, it can be VERY difficult to dial in the desk to achieve an ergomically proper work position. And trust me, if you don't get the position correct you'll find yourself in a state of pain (sore wrists, neck, back, etc.) before you know it. With the Elevate Adjusta I can change the height of the front desk surface (where my keyboard and mouse sit) along with the angle of this surface, while the back of the desk where the monitor is attached remains fixed. I can't overstate the importance of this feature. Looking back, this is the main reason I was glad I didn't get the original Geek Desk, which features a single flat surface.
Two other optional features I ordered with my Adjusta Elevate were a monitor stand and the power bar/strip. I recommend both. Being able to adjust your monitor and move it around really maximizes the use and effectiveness of your work space. And having a ton of available power outlets on the back of the desk is REALLY handy.
For 2012 I'd like to add two more big monitors to what I call "CrackBerry Command Central" but first I need Apple to hurry up and release their new Mac Pros (want a desktop). Feels like we've been waiting forever for those to get updated.
What's Missing on the Elevate Adjusta
While I still think there are a lot of little things that could be done to take ALL standing desks to a whole new level of awesomeness, the key basic feature I wish my desk had that's missing are memory settings for the sit and stand positions. When I first got my desk I asked Anthro about this, and they made the point that they find people often want to "re-dial" in their positions throughout the day, so relying on memory settings isn't that useful. In practice, I have found this to be true. Between wearing shoes or going bare foot, or being full of energy in the morning or a little tired by afternoon, I do find I'll want to tweak the settings a bit to make sure I have that 100% ergonomically correct feeling. That said, my lowered sitting position is always pretty much the same, so there's no reason that position shouldn't be locked in. And my upper position is almost always the same too. Why hold down the up/down buttons when I should be able tap once and let it do the work? Bottom line, I'm a gadget guy. The motorized action is a start, but there's a lot more room to put more circuitry on this bad boy.
10 Tips & Things You Should Know About Using a Standing Desk
The TV crew from France who interviewed me in fall 2010 thought I was nuts to stand and blog
Over the last couple of years I've logged a LOT of standing hours. I've still logged a lot of sitting hours too. Look. Standing all day isn't easy. And it's not really my goal to actually stand all day. My goal wasn't to completely replace sitting with standing, but to simply make sure I wasn't sitting at the desk from 8am to midnight each day, which was often happening (when I get into the zone, I zone out and forget to eat, stand up, etc.). These days I'm at a pretty good balance and have really integrated the standing desk into my everyday work life. Here are some of the things I've learned that may help you:
- Start the Morning Standing - When you leave the office for the night, leave the desk in the standing position. If you start the morning sitting, you're screwed. You'll never raise the desk.
- Stand for Phone Calls - If I'm sitting and the phone or a Skype call rings through, I immediately start raising my desk as I answer and say hello. Make it a rule. If you're talking, you're standing. In a company where you have too many long boardroom meetings? Raise the board room table so everybody is forced to stand. Watch how much more productive and shorter board meetings become!
- Pretend you're on the Starship Enterprise - Seriously, when you start doing work while standing, you feel powerful. Simple tasks like sending an email somehow give you a feeling of a mission accomplished. At first I didn't realize why I felt so much more powerful while doing the same work I would do sitting. Then I realized, it's like you're on Starship Enterprise. You're not sitting at a desk. You're at a command console. Stand me up Scotty!
- Stand After Lunch - I usually find myself starting the mornings standing for a couple hours, but as 11am roles around I'm lowering the desk. When I leave for lunch I raise it again. Standing after eating helps beat that post-lunch drowsiness. Even if you eat a big meal, standing after eating will help you beat it and stay productive all afternoon.
- View Chairs As Thy Enemy - I used to love chairs. Now when I look at them I see pure evil. Well, not quite. But I definitely don't look at chairs the same way I used to. My subconcious is much more aware of the time I spend sitting now. I don't think about it, but I just can't sit like I used to. It's now a habit to want to stand up on a regular basis. If I sit too long I get antsy.
- Work Up to Standing Slowly - If you are used to sitting at a desk all day, ease into standing slowly. Your first few attempts at standing will result in crazy burning calves. Work up to longer periods of standing over time. Rome wasn't built in a day.
- Music Makes You Move - When you're starting out with standing desks, keep the music playing. Turning standing into desk dancing will trick you into forgetting you could be sitting, and you'll find yourself standing for longer periods of time. Need to really fight that urge to sit? Watch this Sexy & I Know It Workout Video.
- Get a Standing Mat or Balance Cushion - Depending what the floor you're standing on is made of, you're going to want to get a mat to stand on. Concrete floors and hardwoods are unforgiving. In the video above you'll see I have a fatigue mat and also a standing balance pad thing which is fun to stand on (I don't have a lot of co-workers in the office so get away with going bare feet).
- Figure Out Your Footwear - I could write another essay on footwear. If you're going to aim to stand a bunch during the day, you need to make sure the things strapped on your feet are going to aid you on that mission. This is going to be somewhat of an individual thing. The big thing to avoid are bad shoes. If you try to stand and your feet are killing you, try another pair. Or go barefoot, which I find is pretty good. If you don't care about looks and are going for something fit and healthy, I'm a big fan of Nike Free running shoes (which I wear barefoot). I have a couple pairs of those crazy Vibram finger shoes and have worn them too, but I personally find them too uncomfortable for long wear use indoors (I know there are a lot of Vibram fans out there, and I get that). Personally I'd rather go barefoot or go Nike Frees.
- It's STILL OK TO SIT! - I still sit for a good chunk of the day. I find when I'm taking care of short tasks or ones that are operational -- emails, phone calls, quick blog posts, quick editing videos like the one in this article, etc. -- I can do that all perfectly well while standing. But when it comes to a task that's going to take a lot of concentration and a lot of time, I often find I need to sit so I can just buckle my brain down and power it out. Overall I personally aim to be standing for 50% or more of my work day. When I beat that I feel good. When I don't, which does happen, I make sure I beat it the next day. Beware the slippery slope of wanting to sit!
If you worked through all ten standing desk tips and you're closer to thinking "I could do this" rather than "The guy writing this article is crazy" then you might be in the market for a standing desk yourself.
Which Standing Desk Should YOU Buy?
That's a good question. I haven't used every standing desk on the market. I used my homemade desk for a year and my rather expensive Anthro Elevate Adjusta for a year and half. I went from the cheapest standing desk (homemade for free!) to one of the most expensive. I skipped everything in between. Looking around Amazon and the internet today as I've been working on this article, it seems there are a LOT more standing desk solutions than there were, and there are options at quite a few price points.
Heck, if you have a laptop and want to give standing a cheap try, the Sharper Image Laptop Cart will get you into the standing game for $70. Looking on Amazon, I found a non-motorized version of the Anthro Adjusta for under $800. Not bad, though I do love having a motor. And as I said above, that Geek Desk is fairly compelling (and does offer saved presets!) but I *really* think having the dual desk surfaces is critical if you're looking for every day, all day use.
Another option that my friend Tom (the one who was at my birthday dinner, remember?) ended up getting is the WorkFit-S. This unit actually mounts on top of your existing desk and can be easily raised and lowered manually. The best part about the WorkFit is the cost - you can grab it for under $400.
There are a lot of options out there. If you know and you have used them, be sure to drop mention of others into the comments. Bottom line. Do some investigating. Do some research. Our SuperFunctional podcast did an awesome show on standing desks that's worth a listen if you're thinking about standing. You can always hit me up on twitter at @crackberrykevin too if you want to run your potential standing desk investment by me.
The Future of Standing Desks
I have no doubt that the buzz surrounding standing desks will continue and gain steam over the months and years ahead. For some it'll be a fad, but for others, myself included, it's an absolute lifestyle change. I wouldn't be surprised if down the road -- five or ten years out -- we see it become law that employers and governments have to offer employees the option of a standing desk. Like I said at the start of this article - on topics like this I'm sure you'll see research over time that says they're awesome, they do nothing, or they're bad for you. That's how this stuff tends to rollout. To me it's just intuitive, feels good and makes sense. I don't need more research than that. I just say give it a try. Once you start doing it you'll feel better standing and you'll want to keep standing.
Sitting Sucks. Demand to Stand.
The best standing desks today are still extremely low-tech in my opinion. I have a lot of ideas of where I think things will head, and I'm sure over the next few years we'll see standing desks evolve to be even more powerful. When you quit thinking of a desk as a desk and begin to think of it as command central, the thoughts of what you can do with a desk go wayyy beyond anything that's out there to date. I'm going to keep my lip shut tight for now on some of those ideas, as I want to **show** them to you all. Stay tuned for that!