Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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how I came to have a standing desk

January 2011 I noticed myself slumping down into my chair. In spite of my best intentions to be an alert, focused, ass kicking desk worker, with stimulating work and decent facilities provided by my employer ngmoco:), I just couldn't help but slouch downwards over the course of a 6-8-10 hour day at my desk.

I had seen Gina Trapani post about her standing desk experiment. Simple, cheap, and active - it seemed like a fun way to work.

In an office filled with mail-ordering folks all the materials were at hand: cardboard delivery boxes and reams of paper from the printer room. I stacked up a stand for my monitor, my laptop, my keyboard and my mouse.

(Thanks Amit Matani for the pic of me!)

It was an immense transformation. As Gina warned, my legs and feet hurt. A lot. I was on my feet all the time! I felt like some kind of strange new worker, until I realized that people working in retail, or flight attendants, they live like this all the time: working on their feet for most of their days. I haven't worked retail since I was about 15 at Software Etc. so I had some physical adaptation to make.

And the results were swift: after about a week of standing at my desk, I was in my boxer shorts at home and I crouched to pick something up off the floor. I noticed some kind of strange new muscle in my thigh - sharply defined and something I didn't remember seeing before. My legs felt much tighter.

After weeks of a standing desk I must confess that I didn't feel much like exercising - I felt like all day I was burning calories. At a standing desk I'm routinely shifting my stance, but always on my feet. Sometimes when good music comes through rotation, I begin to dance a bit - it feels great to have that kind of physical freedom to move.

On the road, I set up standing desks where I could - or at least elevated my laptop way off the table, and used a portable keyboard in my lap. Here's a bookshelf and various parts I adapted into a standing desk in February 2011:

At the end of a day I badly wanted to put my feet up and relax my legs. But when I moved house in April, I set up a standing desk at home, as well. For home use, a standing desk keeps me from lingering on the computer too long.

[pic of home standing desk unit]

My wrists and neck are so worn out from years of computing, particularly a 96 summer roadtrip, that it only takes about 20 minutes of laptopping from the couch or bed to give me severe pain. So I don't mess with the couch or bed - I plug my computer in to my standing desk and then I compute standing until I'm done, and then I enjoy more relaxing activities in the rest of my house.

Here's a May 2011 picture of my revised at-work setup, with some different scavenged parts:

(Thanks Tim Shundo for that pic!)

In 2011 ngmoco:) paid for an ergonomic consultant to review our workstations. She was amused to see my jury-rigged standing desk setup, she asked to take a picture to show her ergonomics class. She said it looked like I had somewhat adequately provided the right height for monitor / keyboard / mouse. But, she said, the best setup allows you to switch readily between standing and sitting. Ideally, we humans don't spend 6-8-10 hours in any single position, instead switching to give some muscles a rest and activate new parts of our hindquarters.

There is equipment that allows you to shift from sitting to standing readily; it ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on whether you're lifting your monitor and keyboard only, or also the entire desk surface as well. I want to help my company make some more money before I ask them to buy that kind of equipment on my behalf. Plus I enjoy my home-spun standing rig for now.

Eric Wilhelm is a role-model in this for me. A year ago I saw his amazing home brew desk setup: a standing desk mounted on top of a treadmill salvaged from Craig's List. He walks 1-2 miles an hour during some tasks, giving him a bit of light exercise on top of the health benefits from standing. I don't think my office has the space to support that today.

There's been a rash of recent news about the perils of sitting all day: that it promotes early-onset death amongst other things. I feel like I am more fit, healthy, and focused in my mind as I work while I'm at my standing desk. I hope I'm not totally screwing up my knees or hips or some other part of my body! We'll see :-)

During 2011 I lost 13 pounds according to my doctor; some of it I blame on walking a lot, some of that I blame on a standing desk. So I'm exercising a wee bit standing at my computer! Hurrah.

One of the chief downsides, as Gina Trapani says in her one year update: "At the end of a standing workday, you just want to sit down." It can be hard to rally for chores at home or crazy evening activities after a long day standing at the desk.

In October 2011, I had a new colleague, and I shifted back to a sitting desk so I wouldn't be towering over her. After a few months my back and neck began to hurt again, so I switched back to standing in January 2012. Overall these days I prefer standing at my computer to be active, able to dance a little, and forced to take breaks by sitting.


In June 2013 I quit my job, and began working full-time on video production at home. I splurged on a Geekdesk for home, so I could switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. I use software called Time Out to keep my wrists and back from getting too sore; each hour the timer signals a break and I switch between sitting and standing.

For standing I have an anti-fatigue mat, a spongy gel mat thing like what folks at the grocery store checkout lines stand on.

When I had a job we had a visit from an ergonomics person. She recommended that sitting all day is bad, but so is standing all day. Varying the stress you put on your body is best. So that's what I've done!

Back and forth all day keeps me sane working alone at home - lively music and some dancing punctuate my day with break. When I'm deep in teasing out an idea, it's easy to turn around and move around a bit for kinetic ideation.

Almost 10 years after starting at a standing desk I would work on an ergoapron.

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justin hall | <justin at bud dot com>