How to Build a Standing Desk and Why You Should Try It
I’ve been working standing for YEARS. In fact, well over 90% of the 1,500+ posts on this website were written by me standing up, bouncing on the balls of my feet, blasting music and sometimes even dancing. Prior to this website, I wrote my entire PhD thesis standing. I honestly couldn’t have done it otherwise.
The times I tried sitting down to work were, more often than not, futile. I’d end up staring blankly at my screen, looking up solutions to writer’s block, ‘procrastisurfing’ (i.e. surfing the web aimlessly), and just feeling blaaah whenever I tried to write anything of substance.
Sitting down for hours on end made me feel lethargic. And you know what else? This may sound ridiculous to you but sitting all day was VERY distracting because I kept worrying about how inactive I was being. I kept thinking, gosh Anna, your lifestyle has become so… sedentary. I kept thinking about all the evidence that’s out these (see below) cautioning us against sitting all day, every day…
So I stood up.
I built my own standing desk. And, I swear to you, my productivity sky-rocketed! I felt more alert and far more energised. With only a brief intermission a couple of years ago (see Note 1 at the end of this post), I’ve been working standing for YEARS! And I haven’t been doing it alone.
If you were to visit our Protein Pow office right now, you’d probably find Daniel, myself, and our other team members standing behind our desks. We used to just use boxes but, last week, we built something much better. You can see it below! We look like office prairie dogs over here, tap tap tap tapping on our keyboards all day.
Hopefully, by the time you get to the end of this post, you too will want to ditch the chair. Or, at least, you’ll consider it. There are several important reasons why working standing could work to your advantage! I’ve jotted them down below. I’ve also gone ahead and given you guys a couple of ‘recipes’ to build your own standing desk at home or at work. At the very end of this post too, I went into some alternatives to standing if you’re in a workplace that isn’t standing-friendly, if you have any back problems, or if you, like I once was, are or have been pregnant and could do with some support.
FASCINATING SIDE NOTE
Before I delve into the benefits of working with a standing desk, I’d like to take a fascinating detour to the land of famous writers.
Did you know that a lot of authors wrote (and write) standing? Benjamin Franklin, Philip Roth, Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway…. they all wrote standing up! Check out these three fascinating articles if you’re interested in learning more about their writing styles:
TOP 3 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER WORKING STANDING
Our bodies were not designed to spend eight+ hours a day bent on a chair, sitting. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can restrict blood flow to our legs and lead to increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, diabetes, and excess body fat.
According to the Mayo Health Clinic, “too much sitting…. seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
In an interview for the LA Times, Dr. James Levine, author of the book Get up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, goes further into this. He argues that sitting all day is wrecking havoc to our health. He’s quite vociferous about it!
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death!” (read the whole interview here).
The take home message is simple: sitting for hours is not good for our health. Our bodies cannot prosper when we leave them sitting in one place for hours. We’re not plants, you know? We’re (non-hibernating) animals!
Choosing to work standing, as opposed to sitting, can do wonders for our health. According to research by NASA, standing for just 2 minutes, 16 times a day can more effectively help you maintain bone and muscle density than if you were to be sitting all day. Your caloric output increases too by the simple fact that standing requires more energy that sitting all day. If you, like me, have a tendency to bounce around, dance, or stretch, that not only increases your energy output, it also enhances blood flow to your muscles (perfect for days when you have DOMS!)
My second reason for loving working standing up is that I get to move as much as I want! I can dance around (here’s me, “dancing”!), bounce from one foot to the other, stretch, and if I’m feeling stuck on a particular topic or need a break, pace around the room. Patrick from Harvard Business Review mentions this too as one of the reasons why he’s a fan of working standing up. He writes, “when I’m blocked by a problem or temporarily bored, it’s a snap to walk away from the desk and pace. Before, while sitting, I tended to stay in my chair and stew or get drowsy.” I 100% agree with that! And I think, once you try working standing, you will too. It’s just so much more conducive to mobility in the workplace, you know?
I touched on this one above but wanted to talk about it a bit here too because this is one of the biggest reasons why I like to work standing: working standing up helps get my creative juices flowing. Obviously this is more idiosyncratic (you’ll have realised this if you read the To Sit, To Write, to Stand article I linked to above which goes into a number of authors’ … unusual non-standing writing positions) but, for me at least, this is HUGE. I can’t tell you exactly why but sitting for a long period of time just makes me feel sleepy and lethargic.
Again though, this isn’t just me! Several Silicon Valley companies (e.g. Google, Facebook) offer standing desks to their employees. In Sweden, over 90% of offices offer standing desks for their staff too! Why? Because working standing has the potential to really impact workplace productivity. Check out this article, published by Business Insider. Its authors put standing desks to the test and concluded that:
“Compared to a period of time when a person was not using the standing desk, we found that standing led to up to 10% more productivity… by standing during the day, we’re able to keep energy levels constant. You’re not getting the 3 o’clock slump, and you avoid the dreaded food coma. As a result, your mind doesn’t drift, your eyes don’t droop, and you can get through your day without experiencing an energy roller coaster.”
GETTING YOUR HANDS ON A STANDING DESK
Nowadays, you can find ready-made standing desks or customized contraptions to put on top of your desk to work standing. On amazon alone, there are dozens. They go from cheap to reeeeally expensive!
This woman here, for example, forked out £350 for a standing desk. You can do the same, and get something like this in the UK, or this in the US. To be honest with you though, I don’t think you should. I mean, not unless you (or your workplace) can afford it! In my opinion, pre-built standing desks are FAR too expensive. I honestly don’t you don’t need to splash out like that. Just build one! It’s reeeeeally easy.
BUILDING A STANDING DESK
The simplest way to build a standing desk doesn’t involve building anything. All it involves is… sticking a box or two on top of your desk (or kitchen counter) until your forearms are horizontal to your keyboard.
This has a plus and a minus: the plus is that, if you have the boxes, it’s practically free. The con is that it looks pretty… makeshift… and you lose a lot of space beneath your laptop that can me used as storage.
When I was working on my PhD, I bought a cube shelving unit, this thing. Stuck it on top of my desk horizontally and presto: I had a solid standing desk with a great opening underneath where I stored all my notes, books, etc.
Here at Pow HQ, we are using a couple of gardening shelving units that we took apart and stuck on our desks (this stuff)! The size ended up being perfect for Daniel and our other Pow peeps but for me, it was too tall. So… we sawed a couple of inches down and BOOM! Perfect for my 5’6 skeleton :-)
I suggest you get something like it if you want to make your own standing desk. Or get something like this and just prop it on top of your desk!
If you want to make your standing desk even snazzier, you can add an extra level to rise your screen above your laptop so its at eye level like this (that’s particularly important if you’re using a desktop as opposed to a laptop, you know?)
The point is that you don’t NEED to buy something custom-made and sold as a standing desk to have a standing desk as home. All you need is a structure, ideally a table-like or shelf-like structure (so you can use the stuff beneath your computer for storage and not lose the space) that is high enough so your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. It’s THAT easy.
NOTE 1: OPTIONS TO A STANDING DESK
*I had an intermission from standing for a few months when I was pregnant and the first weeks/months afterwards; I didn’t sit in a regular chair then though, I sat in a kneeling chair (this baby right here) and it made ALL the difference in the world to my posture and comfort. I still have a kneeling chair. We have three at the office, in fact! They’re our only chairs. They mostly sit in the back of the office, unused, unless we’re feeling tired and/or are feeling like taking a rest! If you’re in a place where, for whatever reason, you can’t work standing, consider a kneeling chair. Consider it if you have back problems too, or posture problems, or if you end your work-day feeling achy in any way. Kneeling chairs are fantastic to keep you in alignment! And if you get a Valens like mine, they have the added bonus of being rockable too, hehe :-)
Anyways, if you have any comments or questions, please add them here! In the meantime, leave you with some fantastic standing-desk humor (because yes, there is such a thing!):