The Standing Desk Project

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Standing desks are something I first heard about from a teammate about eighteen months ago. He mentioned it as a health consideration and I dismissed it as a hipster trendy meme that I couldn’t care less about.

Fast-forward to present day and I’ve gone and built a hack to gain a standing desk.

Describe this Hack

The office furniture in our building is probably twenty years old – way before anyone considered healthy work conditions and surely well before spring-loaded conversion desks were designed and readily bought by concerned employers.

No longer content to sit all day, and probably energized by the new year, I woke up early last Thursday totally revved up to build my standing-desk hack.

Material costs where $zero since I re-purposed scrap wood found in my garage. Ninety minutes later I busted out a table that comfortably fits atop my current desk. It has enough surface area for casually fitting my keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Like you, I’ve read alarming articles in the past year. Articles with themes along the lines of “why is your job slowly killing you?” that I simply couldn’t ignore any longer. I understand that people (like me) don’t exercise enough each day. Not only that, white-collar knowledge-workers (I’m a coder) sit at desks all day long. Apparently that makes us about as healthy as chain-smoking alcoholics.

Did My Teammates Think I Went Crazy Again?

Obviously I was up to something unusual the morning I lugged in that solid wood contraption. None of my teammates quite knew what to make of it until I rearranged my work area and unveiled it.

There was good natured joking, lots of curiosity, and some alarm, but overall just lots of good buzz and consideration from the crew. It’s a bright group and everybody quickly knew what I was up to. I expect many of them are thinking about how and if they ought to do similar.

Lots of fantastic suggestions too:

  • You need a “store greeter” cushion floor mat (thanks Kim!)
  • Put a grass skirt around it (thanks Cindy!)
  • Now get a mini trampoline to bounce on all day (thanks Sean!)
  • Meetings with chairs will be welcome relief (thanks Burin – true as it turns out!)
  • I’m building a privacy screen to hide from you (uh…thanks neighbor Emily!)
  • It needs a flame paint job (thanks Tri!)
  • Bolt on a side cup holder and mount under-hanging snack drawer (thanks Max!)

I also had my photo taken a few times because the entire thing is surprisingly unique, or maybe documentation for HR. Ah well.

Also received positive support on my Twitter feed when I posted the update. Two clever companies sniffed my public feed for keywords mentioning back to me congratulations with links to their health-driven office furniture.

Several teammates jokingly asked how much I’d charge to make them one. Ha! Let’s do something awesome.

What Has This Done To Me?

Being the center of attention (in a positive way) is always fun, but there’s more to this after all. I’m only two days into my change and I found I only stood up working for half the day. The rest was lunch, meetings, and working with teammates where I simply rolled over a chair to pair up.

How do I feel physically and emotionally?

  • I feel more alert and focused
  • More resistant to afternoon snacking urges
  • My upper back doesn’t ache from hunching over in a chair
  • Extra social bonus as walking over to a teammate is super simple
  • People tend to shout out and call me over more frequently to lend a hand
  • Less off-task drifting knowing folks can easily see my screen
  • I feel like I need better padded shoes
  • That I don’t just stand in place but shift weight and stance
  • Overall I feel excited by end of the day as if I’m taking control of something important

Plan

I always start any wood project with at least a simple sketch on paper. Even when tweaks are applied during the build I still want a concrete goal. “Measure twice and cut once” as my grandfather always said.

The plan consisted of this diagram:

  • Top is formed by two runs of 12” wide planking cut 26” long
  • Legs are 2” x 4” cut 13” tall
  • Each side has a crossbeam 2” x 4” drilled into the legs allowing the top to fasten down held firmly into place
  • Pilot holes first drilled with a thin bit making for smooth, split-free screwing
  • All pilot holes lightly touched with a ¼” drill bit making room for counter-sinking the screw heads
  • Use a handsander to round off all edges on the top planks – more comfy for wrists
  • Cover all screw holes with wood filler
  • My finishing touch incomplete – probably medium wood stain with three coats of glossy varnish

Of course these lengths are all cut to my physical needs. Heights vary on a person, and the starting desk height is a big variable too. Bring in your tape measure and ask a buddy to measure you out (thanks B!)

Will I Continue?

Absolutely! No doubt in my mind. I’ll stand daily as long as I can until I need a break. At some point this might break me by the late afternoon and I’ll simply set it aside and work sitting for the remainder of a day. I’ll never feel defeated in that case realizing it’s a matter of moderation to start and conditioning long-term.

Ken Using the Standing Desk

Please use this article as an inspirational jumping-off point for your own project. Feel free to ping me on Twitter telling me of your success. I’ll happily see what you did while I enjoy a coffee.

Update – Mar.02.2013

Guess what, I’m still using the standing desk at work. Lots of curious folks come up to me wondering what I’m up to. I’m always happy sending out an encouraging message to people looking for change in their life who are curious about my experiences.

Teammates have said more than once they wish they had a standing desk because they’re sick of sitting. I find I rarely spend more than two hours standing and then I want a break. Pulling the laptop down to my desk and chair for 20-30 mins just feels right for me. You’ll find your own sense of moderation and balance I’m sure.

The other day I had the good luck of hearing Joe Kutner speak at the Big Ruby Conference and I thoroughly enjoyed his positive message about thoughtfully living our career. Programmers are not known as healthy folks but he wants us to actively change that notion. I totally agree! Go check out his ideas.

Update – Jun.14.2013

An eye-catching article that typifies dangers of sitting too long:

U.S. Doctors May Order Office Workers Out of Their Chairs

Maya Clinic – What are the risks of sitting too much?

NBC News – Sitting all day ‘literally killing us,’ says obesity expert

NYTimes – Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?

 

Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!