Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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6/20/2014
07:00 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Standing Desks: What I've Learned

After a year of using one, I'm sold on the idea of the standing desk -- also known as the all-day fidget desk.

I've been using a standing desk for about a year now, and I've learned some things about it, and about myself.

I started using a standing desk because my knee was bugging me, and sitting made it worse, and because of the general "sitting is the new bubonic plague" kind of articles I'd been reading. I tried sitting on an exercise ball a couple of times and felt ridiculous, like I was getting punished for goofing off in gym class.

So I set up my keyboard and monitor on a standing desk. It's really just a dresser in my home office, but by chance it is exactly the correct height for me. I kept my standard, sitting desk. Here's what I've learned:

It's more like sit-and-stand. I use a tall, backless stool (actually an antique wooden bank teller stool), because I find I need to go back and forth between standing and sort-of sitting on the stool. I'd describe it as an all-day fidget.

I still use the sitting desk. Sometimes I'm just too tired to stand all day, even with the stool. If I haven't been getting enough sleep, or took a long bike ride that morning, I wimp out and go for the conventional desk.

I concentrate better sitting. If I have a task that will take a long and intense bout of concentration, like writing a long article or editing an in-depth report, I do better sitting. Standing, on the other hand, is much better for responding to email, writing and editing shorter articles, or interactive activities such as radio broadcasts or conference calls.

I still pace. Even when I'm at the standing desk, I often pause and pace a couple of feet to either side of the desk. That does not mean I find the idea of a treadmill desk any less absurd.

It's helped, not cured, my knee. My doc said I probably have something the Brits call "theatre knee" -- what we in America wishfully call "runner's knee." I didn't run and still don't, but cutting back on sitting does seem to have helped a great deal.

So I'll be sticking to the standing desk as much as I can, but keeping my wimp-out conventional sitting desk at the ready. Of course, the perfect solution would be one of these adjustable beauties from the likes of NextDesk or UpDesk, if it fits in your office and budget. (Or maybe I'll try the fetal position desk, a trend The Onion recently spotted.)

How about you? Have you tried, contemplated, or abandoned the standing desk? Does it work well for you all day, or do you prefer standing or sitting for particular tasks? Let us know.

InformationWeek's June Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of big data. Find out one CIO's take on what's driving big data, key points on platform considerations, why a recent White House report on the topic has earned praise and skepticism, and much more.

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and leader of its Strategic CIO community. He has been covering technology leadership and strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; ... View Full Bio
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zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2014 | 4:24:46 PM
Re: Standing Desks
I was surprised to see that the articles you linked were from 2013, and 2011, respectively (and some of the research was even older), Chris. Not because I think there's anything wrong with that, but simply because I was ready to call the standing desk a fad. Seeing the date on those articles, though, reminded me that the first time I heard about the standing desk was way back in 2010... and even then, it was someone writing about it as though to say 'okay, I'm finally jumpong on board this wagon.' Maybe I have to accept that it's more than a fad after all.

It's hard to argue with the logic in some of the research on the runner's world article. Increased risk of Colon cancer? Sure, you're putting pressure on your colon all day. Still, I retain a healthy dose of skepticism for linking it to everything from depression to Lung cancer, even when dissociated from exercise. The fact that the researchers all said the same things almost verbatim leads me to think it would be pretty easy to cherry-pick these kinds of results either way. Nevertheless, Chris, your thoughts on the productivity gains are much appreciated, Chris. Maybe I'll have to give the standing desk a try.
glenbren
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glenbren,
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2014 | 1:14:17 PM
Re: My standing desk experience
There are health risks that go along with standing all day, just as there are with sitting all day. I wouldn't choose one over the other but rather a balance of the two. If you don't have a choice but to sit at a desk all day, at least try to get up often to walk around and/or do some stretches. A walk around the garden satisfies that requirement and clears the head too!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 4:59:50 PM
Re: My standing desk experience
For thinking, I guess I'd need a walking or driving desk. Seems I get my best ideas when I step away from my desk completely. Any time I'm stumped for a lede or a hed or have stared at a blank Word doc for too long, I take a little stroll around the garden and usually some form of inspiration (or at least a better starting point) strikes.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 4:58:11 PM
Re: Exercise Ball
I loved those when I was a kid! But I don't think i could balance myself and type or talk on the phone at the same time!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 4:56:38 PM
Re: Thinking on your feet?
I believe one reason behind "standing meetings" is to avoid the endless drone of that one attendee who likes to hear himself/herself speak! By having everyone stand, the thinking is everyone will stay on-topic because they'll want to get out of the conference room and back to their comfy desk chairs!
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 12:05:22 PM
Re: Thinking on your feet?
I definitely didn't mean to suggest it on the extremes of Sitting = Deep, and Standing = Shallow. On an InformationWeek Radio broadcast, I'm totally and intensely focused while standing. It's more that combination of deep concentration and writing that brings me back to Sitting. Maybe it's a simple muscle memory thing -- I've been writing from the sitting position so many years, it's a more natural way to get into that long-form, writing mindset.
Kelly Jackson Higgins
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Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 12:01:50 PM
My standing desk experience
I've been using a standing desk setup for a few months now. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, but I feel more energetic and alert when I stand. The only time I sit now is when I'm writing a story, or when my legs and body get tired (which does still happen).
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 11:43:17 AM
Exercise Ball
I feel silly sitting on an exercise ball at any time. Reminds me too much of driveway play in the 1970's:

Hoppity Hop
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
6/20/2014 | 10:58:13 AM
Thinking on your feet?
>> If I have a task that will take a long and intense bout of concentration, like writing a long article or editing an in-depth report, I do better sitting. Standing, on the other hand, is much better for responding to email, writing and editing shorter articles, or interactive activities such as radio broadcasts or conference calls.

Are you implying that activities which take less thought can be done well while standing? While more thought requires a sitting posture? What about "standing meetings" -- where you have a meeting with no chairs and everyone is on their feet  -- is it quality thought?
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 10:49:38 AM
A Standing Desk Fits My Work Style
I began using a "standing desk" back in the early 80s when I put my Selectric II on top of a filing cabinet in the office that I shared with a couple of other folks. I've been through a bunch of different desks but now I stand at a desk cobbled together from a postmaster's table and a drafting board. I have a drafting stool that I can use when I just need to get off my feet but in general I find that standing leaves my back and hips feeling much better at the end of the day.

My Aeron chair is now relegated to being a very expensive messenger bag holder most days.
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