I think I first got interested in the idea of working while standing up when I was reading the book Brain Rules. That book, in fact, doesn’t just suggest that you work standing up: it suggests that you work while walking, by installing a treadmill at your desk! I’m not about to put a treadmill in my office at work, but after reading that book, I started noticing blog posts extolling the virtues of working standing up. The first was from 37 Signals, with a followup suggesting the practice had spread; and then a trio from Evolving Excellence got me thinking that it really might not be a crackpot idea.
I did a bit more googling; 43 Folders also chimes in on the matter, as does the Canadian analogue of OSHA. The latter was actually rather sobering: as somebody who basically spends all day at a computer, I sometimes forget that there are millions of jobs out there where people regularly work standing up, not always with the best consequences. Still, I found enough positive reports that I thought I’d give it a try.
So I spent the last week before break working standing up. My desk’s height is somewhat adjustable, but not adjustable enough; fortunately, there were enough office supplies (reams of paper, mostly) lying around to let me build stands for my monitor, keyboard, mouse, and notes, so an hour later I had a workable setup.
It’s hard to say yet how it’s going: as expected, it was uncomfortable (though bearable), and I haven’t been doing it long enough to get past that stage. Though even the discomfort had a surprising effect: it seems to have cut down on my procrastination, because one of my typical ways of procrastinating is to do something at my computer other than what’s most important (e.g. I check my e-mail too often); that is singularly ineffective in removing what is now my top annoyance, however, namely that my feet hurt! And that made procrastinating seem silly, so I spent less time doing it and more time getting more work done. I don’t expect that benefit to last, though.
Some people report that working standing up gives them more energy; that would be a welcome result (I frequently have a lull in energy in the early afternoon), but I haven’t noticed it yet. Other people report that it helps their back; my back does get uncomfortable after spending too much time typing, and I think that actually did improve over the course of the week. If that continues to be case, it’s certainly to the good, as long as I’m not, say, trading back pain for knee pain.
Along those lines, another effect of the experiment is that it’s reminded me how out-of-touch with my body I am. I’ve mostly given up on the idea of good posture while sitting, but I figured that, if I’m going to stand, I should put in a bit of effort figuring out what my posture should be like, so I can get good habits ingrained. The problem is, I don’t really know what good standing posture feels like! I was expecting there to be some positions that just felt right, if I would listen to my body; I haven’t yet reached that level yet, though. (I did some web searching for posture tips, but I didn’t find any that impressed me; any recommendations?) So I’m still working on my posture; for what it’s worth, though, I did end up raising my monitor on two separate occasions after my initial attempt (by a couple of inches or so each time, the height of a ream of paper) as I became less slumped and realized that I was looking down at my monitor; it’s certainly good that I’m managing to stand taller.
Some sources also recommend that you have a low step available, so you can rest one of your legs. I found one that’s about the 20 centimeters high that the CCOHS recomends, and using it for any length of time really hurt. So I’m not planning to make a habit of that, though it’s available for occasional use. I am at least shifting my body around some: in particular, I take a break from typing every 10 minutes, and now I’m sitting during that time, to give my muscles and blood vessels a break.
This is still very much a work in progress; I’m planning to keep it up through at least the end of January before making a firm decision one way or another. (I’ll report back with an update then.) If my back really feels better (and my legs/feet stop hurting), I’ll probably keep it up; ditto if I find that standing gives me more energy. If it remains uncomfortable, though, I’ll probably stop. I’m still curious about the “working at a treadmill” idea, but that sounds like a big enough experiment that I’m not planning to do it now; maybe if I ever get a job that has me working at home, I’ll give that idea a try.
This post has not been revised since publication.