I Tried a Standing Desk to See How It Affects My Mood, Comfort, and Productivity
Let’s talk about working at a desk. And playing at a desk. And eating at a desk, and watching shows at a desk, and reading at a desk. Day and night, spending all your time at a desk. This is what I typically do.
You can hold your comments about how sitting is rotting my body from the inside, or whatever. I already know it’s very bad. I know I shouldn’t spend the vast majority of my waking hours sitting, but I do. I’ve always had hobbies that are easiest performed while sitting down, and then as an adult I’ve worked a “desk job”.
It’s easy. It’s part of my routine, even if it might be slowly killing me.
I don’t know exactly what prompted the idea that I should make a change, but sometime around the transition from 2021 into 2022, I had the idea that I should at least try standing at my desk. Maybe it would make me healthier, or help me focus. Maybe it would just tire me out? I wouldn’t know unless I tried.
There are many different pieces of advice floating around the internet regarding the proper way to work at a desk. Not everyone agrees that standing is always better than sitting, or that standing is the best alternative to sitting. A lot of it is dependent on the individual.
Still, I wanted to give it a shot and see how it felt.
A Little Bit About Me
I do have some history with standing: I’m not good at it.
My feet are huge wimps and my knees have had their share of problems, too. Most notably, after Pokemon Go came out, I started walking 5 miles a day and needed urgent physical therapy after 2 weeks, because my knees started to give out mid-stride.
I also used to commute by train, and there was very rarely a free seat, especially on the trip home in the evening. So, I would stand for about forty-five minutes — in walking shoes, I’m not crazy — and by the end of it my feet would be aching badly. Once I got home, if I had to stand on the hard laminate of the kitchen floor to cook dinner, or do anything on my feet, they would hurt so bad, it was like standing on knives.
So, knowing all that, I knew that if I was going to try standing more, I had to be gentle. I’d need to go easy in terms of duration and make sure I had a soft surface to stand on, or some nice shoes.
Since full standing desks are incredibly expensive, I went with a sit-to-stand converter that sits on top of my existing desk. The one I got matches my desktop nicely, which is an aesthetic bonus, and fits on the “day job” side of my L-shaped desk.
I had to do a lot of measuring and rearranging because my office area has a sloped ceiling. I literally can’t stand in parts of it, because I would hit my head on the ceiling. I have just enough room on that side of my desk so I can stand comfortably and also lift the desktop high enough that my monitor doesn’t scrape the ceiling either (though it does come dangerously close).
For my work machine I have a kind of big MacBook Pro and a 32” ultra-wide monitor, so the sit-to-stand converter I got is a wide one: 36 inches. The brand is VIVO. I went with them because I’ve used their monitor mounts and keyboard trays before and had a pleasant experience with those products, so it seemed like a safe bet.
I also got a standing mat, for my poor baby feet: the Sky Solutions Anti-Fatigue mat. This was on a list I found somewhere on the internet, and it was affordable. It feels pretty nice on my feet, though I feel like I could do with an even more plush mat at times.
That’s all I really needed to get started. Something to raise my desk equipment up to standing height, and something to keep my feet from falling off the end of my legs in revolt.
The Control Week
In order to understand any changes that happened physically, in my mood, or in my productivity, I had to get a baseline. So I tracked all my desk activities for an entire week before setting up the sit-to-stand converter.
For both weeks, I only tracked during working hours, Monday through Friday. This is because all my evening and weekend activities are the same — I can’t stand at my “personal” computer so it felt like tracking all that would be a lot of work for nothing. This is an experiment focused on my day job work.
When I logged my updates, I made sure to include the timing of all my breaks (when I left the desk), how I was feeling emotionally, how I was feeling physically, how much work I had gotten done during that time period, and any notes that I thought would be important context later.
Here’s a summary of the data I collected during the Sitting Week:
- Worked 7:30am to 5:00pm with 5 short breaks, 1 long break
- Felt mostly OK, with some anxiety
- Got a headache and noticeable eye strain
- Several productive meetings, some additional work done. Productivity rating 4 out of 5
- Worked 8:00am to 4:30pm with 4 short breaks, 2 long breaks
- Mood was generally good
- Another headache that got very bad in the evening
- Decent productivity, 3 out of 5
- Worked 8:15am to 4:50 with 6 short breaks, 1 long break
- Mood started off bad, slowly got to OK
- Another headache, some lower back tension, sore muscles
- Work was hard to focus on, 2 out of 5
- Worked from 7:40am to 4:00pm with 5 short breaks, 1 long break
- Mood was good, with low-grade anxiety all day
- Lower back pain most of the day, another headache
- Good work and several important meetings, 4 out of 5
- Worked from 7:30am to 5:30pm with 9 small breaks, no long breaks
- Mood was good, but anxiety got very bad in the afternoon
- Early morning headache that got worse during the day, stomach started feeling bad
- Under pressure with a deadline, got a lot of work done, 4 out of 5
I have some notes about the Sitting Week, the first being that it was my first week back after the holidays and I had a lot of catching-up to do. I also had cut the added sugar in my diet down quite a bit as part of a New Year goal, which almost certainly contributed to the headaches.
I do get a lot of headaches normally, but every day is still a bit much, even for me. If I had thought about it, I would have done my sitting week after adjusting to the low sugar diet, but for now this is the data that I have.
The Standing Week
My plan for the standing week was simply to stand as much as I could without causing any pain or serious discomfort. I didn’t have a hard schedule, or a goal, I just paid attention to how I was feeling.
Aside from that, I tracked all the same kinds of data, with roughly the same frequency.
- Worked from 7:30am to 4:30pm, with 4 short breaks and 1 long break.
- I stood for 3.6 hours
- Mood was very good, I was excited to start the experiment and enjoyed some music
- Slight pressure in my feet, and tired calves, but no pain
- Productivity was excellent, 5 out of 5
- Worked from 7:30am to 4:40pm, with 4 short breaks and 1 long break
- I stood for 3 hours
- Mood started off good, I started to feel a little off by midday, and then got hangry that evening
- Felt pretty good today
- Productivity was fairly good, with several meetings, 4 out of 5
- Worked from 7:30am to 4:45pm with 3 short breaks, 1 long break
- I stood for 2.5 hours
- Mood was not good, and got worse as meetings overwhelmed me
- Headache near the end of day, eased up on standing so I could do a run without pain
- Meetings drained and I didn’t do much else, 3 out of 5
- Worked from 8:00am to 4:45pm with 2 long breaks
- I stood for 2.5 hours
- Mood oscillated throughout the day
- Mild headache for most of the day, feet felt a little sore
- Between more meetings, I got a good amount of work done. 4 out of 5
- Worked from 8:00am to 4:00pm with 2 short breaks, 1 long break
- I stood for 4 hours
- Mood was fine, with some anxiety
- Physically I felt very good, strong, in the morning, but by evening my knees started to ache
- Work was fine, but less focused, 3 out of 5
During my standing week, I worked roughly the same number of hours, but I took far fewer short breaks away from my desk. This surprised me, because I expected that I would want more breaks because I would be tired from standing. That’s not really what happened.
My mood was a little more volatile in the standing week, but I did report less anxiety overall. That may or may not be related to the standing, but it’s something I noticed.
Physically, I had fewer headaches and general body pain, but that may be in large part because I was finally starting to get used to eating less sugar. I didn’t notice an increase in leg or foot pain, just a general feeling of pressure on the bottoms of my feet when I stood too long without a break.
My productivity was similar, but slightly better during the standing week. I have some thoughts on this!
I like standing. I was surprised at how much I liked it, in fact. The thing I have to keep in mind, is that I do still have physical limitations.
Some days I like to do a run. Some days I have a lot of chores to do on my feet, or I’ll have to cook dinner, and if I stand too much at my desk, these other activities could then become painful.
That’s something I need to keep an eye on. Maybe I’ll build endurance with time, but, like I mentioned, I used to do a lot of standing for my commute. Even doing it 5 days a week for a year, it never really got easier, so I don’t expect that to happen here.
Overall, in terms of mood and enjoyment, I think the standing is a plus. It’s especially fun when I add music. It’s easier to get into the groove — do a little dancing, or have a wiggle at my desk — when I’m standing. I had a lot of fun bopping to dance beats while working.
I also think standing helped with focus and that in turn helped productivity. My best guess is that standing sessions give the same kind of benefit as doing a “pomodoro”, where I know I’m going to be standing for a period of time and that period of time is intended for work.
It’s like a natural timer, almost. The change in my environment helps my brain drum up some urgency. It also puts me just slightly farther away from other distractions. If I want to mess with things on the personal side of my desk I have to crouch down, or pull my chair back into position. There’s just enough friction there that I am reminded to focus on my work instead of doing something else.
Do I like standing enough to drop money on a full standing desk? I’m not sure yet.
To get a desk that is big enough for my personal computer and my work computer I would need to go pretty big, and that gets expensive. A lot of the popular ones would run me more than two thousand buckaroos.
For now, I think the sit-to-stand converter is plenty. The only thing I can’t really do is stand for personal work or gaming, which only comprises a substantial chunk of my day on weekends, anyway.
I do like standing enough to recommend trying it!
Let me be clear: the changes have been really subtle for me. I wouldn’t expect it to change anyone’s life. I might not have noticed if I didn’t keep detailed notes about how I was feeling throughout this experiment.
However, I do think it has offered a little boost for my overall mood and then a slightly bigger boost for my ability to focus on my work.
As long as I don’t overdo it, there’s really no reason to stop, no negative side effects that I’ve seen, so I’m going to keep going.