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Cover image for Tips for a successful switch to a standing desk

Tips for a successful switch to a standing desk

jerodsanto profile image Jerod Santo Originally published at jerodsanto.net ・5 min read

Note: I originally wrote this in 2013, so add 5 years to all counters. I'm still standing (yeah yeah yeah😏), and the advice holds true. My desk is a little fancier these days, but it was still pretty cheap!

I've been standing while I work for over two years now.

People often ask me about the particulars of how I transitioned away from sitting all day. Sometimes they're just making convo, but often they are looking for tips on making the switch themselves, so I thought I'd jot down a few things for y'all to reference.

1. Avoid the sit/stand desk trap

You can waste a lot of time and money shopping awesome sit/stand desks online. Whether manual, motorized, or hydraulically charged, these convertible desks aren't worth their exorbitant costs and they surely won't help you succeed more than any old tall desk would.

You may believe that sinking a bunch of money into your new goal is a good first step toward accomplishing it. It is not. The best way to accomplish your goal is to set about doing it, not shopping it.

I started down the sit/stand rat hole, but I ended up saving my hard-earned cash and went with a homemade standing desk fashioned from plywood. I used that desk for 18 months or so and just recently upgraded to a build-it-yourself Ikea desk that looks pretty good and still didn't break my bank like a sit/stand would.

Made from Ikea parts totaling < $200

I can't speak from personal experience, but I've read & seen quite a few folks who bought a fancy sit/stand desk and ended up just sitting the whole time anyhow.

You want to be able to sit down when you're tired (see #3 for more on that), but you don't want it to be that easy to sit down or you'll never stand up.

2. Height matters most

What is worth your time is getting the height of your standing desk right. The particulars will vary from person-to-person, but a good rule of thumb is to have your arms at slightly more than a 90° angle when typing.

If your desk is too tall (my first one was) then the blood will rush out of your hands. This can be painful and probably not good for you.

If your desk is too short (my second one was until I readjusted it) you will have to slouch down while you stand there. This is a quick way to acquire a neck or back injury.

The 3rd angle is good, but the drawing is still bad

I've also read that the preferred position for your displays is at eye level, which leads many people to prop them up higher than their keyboard somehow, but I look down at mine a bit and it's never bothered me. YMMV.

3. Ease into it

There's no easier way to fail than to define success as something outside of your ability. If you go cold turkey from sitting all day to standing all day you will fail. Your body is not ready for it.

Instead, start small and build from there. When I first started my transition I would stand for an hour in the morning, sit until lunch, stand for an hour after lunch, and sit until the day was over.1

A week or so later I would stand for two hours in the morning, sit until lunch, stand for an hour after lunch, and sit again until the end of the day.

It takes time, so don't be discouraged if your feet hurt too much in the beginning (and they will — see #4 for more on that). All in all it probably took me 4-6 months before I was standing for the majority of the day.

And you know what? I still sit down sometimes! My principle is to just sit down when I'm tired. Lately this has been a of couple times each week, in the late afternoons.

Standing all day should not be some kind of Stoic routine (Stoicism is always misplaced, btw). The point is to make your work day better! If it's not better, then by all means sit down!

4. Protect your feet

The only unavoidable discomfort from using a standing desk will manifest in your feet. You cannot avoid this and eventually they will grow stronger and the pain will subside, but in the meantime there are a couple things you can do to lessen the pain.

The best strategy is to wear a good pair of athletic shoes while you work. This is easy and just works, but it is not always practical or even desirable.

So, in addition to athletic shoes, I suggest getting an anti-fatigue mat. I got this mat off Amazon and am quite happy with it. You can tell from the picture below how cushy it is.

I like to work with bare feet or in slippers, so I switch back and forth between the mat and athletic shoes.

5. Get away from the desk

One of the great advantages of standing is that you can more easily move around. Take advantage of that!

On a phone call? Walk away from the desk. Brain storming a new product? Walk away from the desk. Toiling away on a hard problem? Walk away from the desk.

Another great thing about standing is that it makes sitting down feel like a treat! Feeling unproductive? Go find a comfy chair and just relax for a few minutes. Your feet will recover quickly and you'll be recharged in no time.

6. You should try it

This isn't so much a tip as it is an exhortation. You can read all the pros & cons of sitting vs. standing if you want, but you won't know if standing is good for you until you try it.

Anecodotal evidence and all that, but I have come to love standing and doubt that I'll ever switch back to sitting full time. I find my mind is sharper in the morning, I'm less tired during the early afternoon lull, and I'm more tired at the end of the day than I was when I sat.

I hope one or more of these tips helps you during the switch!


  1. You may be thinking that this advice contradicts #1 where I said don't get a sit/stand desk. You will need a place to sit down and get work done, but you do not need that place to be the same desk. I use a laptop and can move about my office quite easily. If you are tied to a desktop you may need to ignore #1. 

Discussion

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jerodsanto profile image
Jerod Santo Author

My current desk pictured in the cover image (for those curious) is an Ikea BEKANT.

It is a sit/stand, but I don't have a chair in my office so the up/down functionality is only used by my kids to mess with me. 😆

The cost is pretty reasonable. Only problem with it is a lack of drawers, but that's the price you pay to be a minimalist, I guess! 🤷‍♂️

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maestromac profile image
Mac Siri

How long have you been using it and would you recommend it?

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jerodsanto profile image
Jerod Santo Author

I've been using it for ~3 years and yes I'd recommend it with caveat that I stated above: there are no drawers. This isn't an issue for me since I have a standalone drawer/cabinet in my office, but it might be a drawback for some people.

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Matt Simonis

It's a little more expensive, but I highly recommend this style of anti fatigue mat - Topo by Ergodriven. The bumps and ridges give my feet various positions they can be in, and allow me to stretch the muscles in my legs when needed.

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jerodsanto profile image
Jerod Santo Author

Oh wow that one looks really nice!

Currently unavailable.

😭

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alexeyzimarev profile image
Alexey Zimarev

Work at a standing position is not new, blue-collar workers do it for a few last centuries. It has never been proved healthy and I am not sure why those lessons of hundreds of years of experience is so easily forgotten by office workers.

At least, we can find something about work safety and regulations in the Internet, right?

ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/sta...

Can working in a standing position cause health problems?
Standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard. However, working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. These are common complaints among sales people, machine operators, assembly-line workers and others whose jobs require prolonged standing.

ergo.human.cornell.edu/cuesitstand...

The Perils of Standing
But, standing to work has long known to be problematic, it is more tiring, for men with ischemic heart disease it increases the progression of carotid atherosclerosis because of the additional load on the circulatory system. Prolonged standing at work also increases the risks of varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age. So standing all day is unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit. Ergonomists have long recognized that standing to work is more tiring than sitting to work. Standing requires ~20% more energy than sitting. Standing puts greater strain on the circulatory system and on the legs and feet. Consequently, in industry we provide employees with ergonomic anti-fatigue to stand on, with anti-fatigue footwear, and with chairs to allow them to sit down during rest breaks.
The bottom line:
Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 8 minutes AND MOVE for 2 minutes. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and stand and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. And movement is FREE! Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

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Danny de Vries

Usually I see people sitting down in the morning and standing the rest of the day after lunch. A massagist told me that is a really bad habit. As you mentioned in your post you should spread it out over the day! Stand a couple of hours, then sit, then stand.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is just what I needed if I end up going this route.

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igorsantos07 profile image
Igor Santos

Ok, wait. I think got lost here. If you suggest to get a simple standing desk, how are you supposed to split your time between sitting and standing? You move your computer, screen, keyboard and mouse to a sitting table and back to the standing one a few times every day?
I guess, at the very least, a moving desk is useful for those who can't bother with all that work, or afford the extra space for such an uncommon setup of two desks.

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jerodsanto profile image
Jerod Santo Author

I use a laptop and just unplug it from an external display a few times a day. If you can't swing that, then yeah a moving desk would be better. The point of the advice is to avoid the price of most sit/stand desks, nothing else.

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Robin Kretzschmar

We have those sit/stand combinations in our office and I can confirm that they are not worth their money. Also a good point of yours is that they will support old habits to keep sitting while the pure standing model will change that more efficiently.

Thanks for writing it down, I will try the DIY model this year.

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Adam Garstang

I disagree that the convertible solutions are not ok.

In some offices a totally different desk to the others is not an option, in this case getting something to go on top is the only solution.

I recently got the Varidesk Pro 36 at work and it's very sturdy. I must admit I very rarely adjust it to it's down position as once your used to standing you stand all the time.

uk.varidesk.com/en-gb/products/sta...

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jerodsanto profile image
Jerod Santo Author

Yeah, my point with that is mostly to avoid the extra cost of buying a sit/stand since you probably won’t use it both ways very much.

There are definitely circumstances where it makes sense to go adjustable. That Veridesk looks 👍

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rrackiewicz profile image
rrackiewicz

I have an Uplift mechanical sit/stand desk with a memory setting keypad so I can easily switch between sitting and standing. Instead of the Uplift tops, I opted for a 1-1/2" x 6' x 8' butcher block top from Lumber Liquidators and did all the edging and finishing myself. The nice think about the large desk is that I can pair program with ease (with a lot of space left over). The desk is a tank! As far as drawers, I don't find a lack of them being prohibitive. I have a rolling filling cabinet (the top drawing is storage) that sits under the desk and since my tabletop is so large, I use various bins and containers (thank you Container Store) that fill up the unused part of my tabletop to hold all my stuff. I have the Topo by Ergodriven mat. I find it comfortable for my feet even when I'm sitting. It's fun for my feet!

On the other end of the equation, sometimes I prefer to sit. I have three chairs depending on my mood and task. If I'm doing more thinking and I need to kick back a lot or I want to sit with my legs up, I have the Ikea Markus swivel chair. For nose down work I have an Aeron chair (worth every dime if you can afford the adjustments you need...e.g. fully-adjustable arms are a must). If I need to relax and contemplate a problem or stare at my markerboard wall, I have a comfortable accent chair in the corner of my office that supports my head. Quite the contrast in price, but each highly effective in their own way. I find that my sit/stand ratio is about 50:50 depending on the type of work I do.

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Miguel Teheran

Thanks, I have to try it!!

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patrickcole profile image
Patrick Cole

Thanks for posting these tips! Nice to get some perspective on use for a long period of time.

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Robert

1.5 years standing up cause of lower back issues while sitting. I see 3 as the biggest hurdle for most people.