standing desk
March 26, 2018

How I’m getting on with, and up for, my first Standing Desk

By Paul Laughlin

As a break from our focus on Data Scientists, let me share my experience with my new Standing Desk. I’m sure you’ve seen all the media coverage on the need for us to stand more.

From the US tabloid headline, “Sitting is the new Smoking“, to more scientific evidence as to the benefits of standing more & sitting less.

Having previously benefitted from embracing the evidence for how Mindfulness and Life Plans can improve your productivity, I was motivated to try another change. After all, ideas to improve the way you work, has become a recurrent theme on this blog.

Could team productivity be helped by having a Standing Desk each?

I also see this as related to our posts on getting the most out of your technical team. We have previously shared ideas on how to avoid pitfalls & better manage:

One aspect of this, perhaps one we have neglected, is wellbeing. An ever-increasing number of employers are putting more focus on wellness programmes & how to improve the health & happiness of their staff.

So, how might Standing Desks contribute towards well being & more importantly, what has been my experience of beginning to use one?

Standing Desk: How I chose the right one for me

First questions, first. Where did I buy my standing desk? Well, like most of today’s consumers, I consulted three primary sources. Browsing a selection of standing desks on Amazon & Google Shopping, as well as searching for the best review of recommended desks. With regards to the latter, I found this review by Business Insider was useful in weighing up what to consider.

The best standing desks for your home or office

The best overall One of the biggest downfalls of a fully transitional sit-to-stand desk is that the higher it gets, the less stable it becomes until you’re left with a uselessly wobbly contraption. Not so with the Fully Jarvis.

To simplify, one of the key differences is between desk lifters & full standing desks. The former just sit on your existing desk and, manually or automatically, enable you to lift to standing height a portion of your desk space. Often this is sufficient for keyboard, monitor & mouse (depending on how you use a mouse – I do tend to travel with mine).

The other option is a full desk designed to be a standing desk. This latter option is more expensive but gives you more Desk ‘real estate’ when standing (which I value for books, taking notes, pens etc, as well as iMac, keyboard & mouse).

3 types to consider

Within full standing desks, it’s important to distinguish between 3 types. Those that a fixed in a standing position, which is the cheapest option, but not viable unless you have another desk to sit at as well. The other two can be adjusted for both standing & sitting heights, the difference being how that mechanism works. Automatic desks provide a press button solution for adjusting your desk height, manual ones require physical adjustment.

Given I expected to be only standing for a portion of each hour, the desk was going to be raised & lowered up to 8 times during a working day. So, I decided an automated full standing desk, with as quick & smooth a mechanism as possible, was what I needed.

But, I’d misleading you if I suggested that this (or any of my purchases) was a purely rational selection., the supplier I selected, also do a good job of appealing to your emotions & social norm bias through their videos. Clearly they worked for me.

Standing Desk: Getting set-up

Having selected a standing desk, at least if you go for a full-size automatic desk, there is more to consider than you might imagine. These desks are installed on-site. That might sound like overkill, but it makes transportation easier and provides an option you might not have considered; reusing your existing desktop.

For a few years I had been happily using an Ikea desk as my main working area. It had a pleasing darker wood desktop, with just the right amount of space for how I like to spread out. It easily accommodates my iMac, in-tray, space for books, keyboard, mouse & desk stationery. So, I decided to choose the saving of selecting YoYo standing desk frame & reuse of my existing desktop (the size of which worked – even though slightly smaller than YoYo standard desk surfaces.

The installer who arrived was a credit to their business. Friendly and helpful, I not only got to see how a standing desk is assembled (the motors within the desk legs are impressively engineered), but also hear about demand. As well as turning up at small business premises like my house, he is seeing increasing demand from large firms. He and his team have actually had orders for over a hundred standing desks from some companies.So, you may be missing out, compared to your competition, if you haven’t considered it.

Standing Desk: My experience, 3 months in

So, how has my Standing Desk worked for me? Well, I’m very pleased and it is helping my working life in a couple of ways. But, first a caveat, don’t expect to stand up all or even most of the time. Despite the images or even TV programmes you may have seen, you do get tired in your legs & back, plus some research is also now revealing the dangers of overdoing standing.

My desk came with advice on how to get started and this recommended at first trying standing for 10-15 minutes power hour. That has continued to work well for me. But, I suffer from low blood pressure, so am not great at standing for prolonged periods, so you may find longer is comfortable. Either way, the advice is to move your feet a littler or at least shift your weight. I find this tends to come naturally.

It’s also worth not overlooking the existing reasons you may be getting away from your desk already. Coffee/tea/water breaks, as well as getting up to get something or having a chat with work colleagues/partner, all count. In my case, after suffering with shoulder/arm pain for some time, a physiotherapist has advised not sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time anyway. I find a reminder on my Apple Watch works well to just buzz me to either switch to standing desk or take a short walk.

The impact on my wellbeing & productivity

The result of all this increased standing & moving? I feel much better. More energised & alert, especially in the afternoon, when we have the “slump” that Daniel Pink proved in his research. I’ve also noticed that I am quicker at some of the tasks I stand to do. Akin to the different tasks at different times, recommended in “When“, it is easier to do tasks that require less concentration when standing.

So, I find it ideal for social media, emails, planning diary & other admin tasks. While doing this, standing keeps me more alert but also faster. It’s also prompted me to walk when taking a call or thinking something through – a practice that seems to suit my body.

Regular readers may be wondering how this all fits with my call for “Deep Work“, as recommended by Cal Newport. Well, it’s true that it breaks up longer periods of time, but I also find it a physical queue to settle down & concentrate when I do sit. Alongside the benefits of improved focus that I have experienced as a result of Mindfulness, mixing sitting & standing working does help me be better and both efficiency times & focus times.

It’s also worth noting that another benefit is the precision of adjusting your standing desk. As well as being able to raise to just the right height for you to stand, you can lower to just the right height for you to sit. Definitely more comfortable than a standard desk height.

Standing Desks: Have you tried them?

Over to you. Have you thought about or tried a Standing Desk?

I hope my sharing has been useful & perhaps prompted you to seriously consider such an investment for you or your team. Ergonomics can be too neglected as a topic for analysts & data scientists. With so much of their work at laptops or desktop computers, posture matters & time lost to back pain or other injuries costs businesses. I’d recommend at least trialling providing your analysts with a standing desk, if they find it as helpful as I have, you will see productivity & motivation benefits.

Please do share your experience too, as I’ve not seen much discussion of this topic within our community. Do data leaders benefit from using standing desks as much as the wider population?