How to choose

I’ll bet you’ve heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” – it has been kicking around for a few years now. When sitting, our metabolism slows dramatically and this can be linked to increases of a myriad of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even early death as brought to life in this infographic.   Sitting is also a drag on productivity.  This well-done TED-Ed video explains the impact on your body.

On trend to help mitigate the effects of lengthy sitting are walking meetings, fitness monitoring devices, “sweatworking”, and the increasing popularity of standing desks

I had been exploring standing desks for some time given my, ahem, long-standing interest in workstation ergonomics, but it wasn’t until I started developing lower back pain that I decided to get serious about researching options.

Here are some of the points you might consider if you’re thinking of swapping out your desk.

A. Replacing Desk Storage

  1. Where is all that stuff going to go?

No standing desks I’ve seen yet include attached storage (though if redesigned, they could!).  My existing desk came with three regular drawers, a file drawer and a cabinet which provided ample storage for office supplies, paper and reference material.

Pine Desk with Keyboard Tray

Existing desk with keyboard tray

For a smooth process and to avoid lingering piles you’ll want to figure out homes for items like these before you purchase your new desk.  Any time you make a change, it’s a perfect opportunity to edit your belongings.  Following the Four Step P.L.A.N. to Get Organized™, Liberating possessions comes before Arranging them.  I culled some office supplies, archived files in this process and found homes for remaining items in cabinets and drawers in other furniture pieces in my office.

Consider a rolling desk cabinet with drawers, filing cabinets and shelving to relocate those items.

You may also want to have a few supplies right on your desk for quick access. I kept my pencil cups and added a drawer organizer which can be put away if necessary.


B. Selecting Your Desk

1. Should it be a standing desk only?

No.  Standing all day presents another set of stresses on the body.

Ideally you will want to be able to switch between sitting and standing based on the tasks you wish to complete and for comfort.  The ability to raise and lower the work surface or to move between a sitting workstation and a standing one is critical. For convenience and because of space constraints, for most people, a combination sit-stand desk will be the best choice.  If you’re not sure, then test out working standing up as I did while living simply in a studio apartment last winter.

2015-01-31 12.55.43


Standing Desk on Dresser

Improvised standing desk, using the top of a chest of drawers.

My experience: I have found that I spend about equal amounts of time sitting and standing.  For creative writing, I tend to feel more comfortable sitting.  However, tasks such as scanning, which require multiple trips between the computer and the scanner are much more comfortable when standing. I used to loathe scanning and now don’t find it nearly as tedious. The same goes for filing. I often talk about taking speed bumps out of your day to increase flow. I hadn’t realized how much I disliked the physics of scanning from my office chair.

What this means for you: Listen to your body while completing different tasks. Have someone photograph you at your desk so you can examine your posture.  Notice how often you naturally get up and move.  Just because someone recommends getting up and moving every 20 minutes, doesn’t mean you’ll do it.  These pieces of information will inform your choices about when to sit and when to stand.


2. Should you retrofit your existing desk or replace it?

It depends on how you work and what you work with.

You can choose to add a device to your current desk that raises and lowers your computer. The Varidesk is an example of several models available in the market. While this option is generally less expensive, it presents a more limited work surface and is visually busy.

Or, you can choose to replace your desk with a sit-stand model in which the whole surface of the desk moves.

My experience: I chose to replace my desk with sit-stand desk.  I thought about what I would want to have on my work surface.  I use a corded phone, task light, desk calendar, speakers for my sound system, and often have paper files and materials on my desk surface, all of which I wanted to raise with the computer. It did help that my high capacity desk which served me well for about ten years had seen better days.


3. What size desk do you need?

You’ll want to pay careful attention to the space you have available in the room.

Make sure the desk fits in your space without compromising flow, and offers an adequate surface for the work you do.  Don’t forget to allow space for the chair elsewhere when you’re standing at the desk.

My experience: I have found benefit in increasing the depth of my desk from 24” to 31”.  My phone, light, office supplies, and computer screens fit comfortably at the back of the desk and allow more of the front to hold papers, a cup of tea and a timer.


4. What else should you consider?

  1. Move Mechanism

    If you’re going to enjoy using the desk, look for a smooth experience raising and lowering the desk. Early, more inexpensive models had hand cranks. You don’t have to pay a lot now for an electronic version.  I’d liken it to the difference between manual and electric windows in a car.  If you choose a hand crank version, be sure you’ll actually use it. On the other end of the spectrum, you may require memory pre-sets for even greater ease.

  2. Cable Management

    Don’t be fooled by marketing pictures. Those cords have to go somewhere!

  3. Range of Motion

    Standing desk at its lowest position

    Standing desk at its lowest position – 24″.

    You’ll want to make sure the desk raises high enough to use comfortably. I’m 5’4” with long legs and when standing I keep the desk around 40” to keep my wrists flat. When sitting and using my computer, I have the desk at about 27 “,  lower than my traditional desk which had a lower keyboard tray.  I like that I can adjust the desk to a height my kids are comfortable using.  It’s a desk for the whole family.

    Raised standing desk

    Raised to the max position – 48″. Yes, I shot this after playing tennis.

  4. Load Capacity

    How much weight can the desk support?

  5. Finish

    As with any desk, the choice of surface is a personal preference, however I will share that switching from a pine desk to a white laminate has significantly brightened the office.

  6. Ease of Assembly

    If assembly is required, make sure you have what you need to assemble the desk. I am not a very handy person, but I considered it a win that I was able to assemble my desk myself.

  7. Price

    As standing desks have increased in popularity, prices have come down.  I paid $600 CDN for this desk with electronic controls.

  8. Reviews

    For a comprehensive review of options, check out The Wirecutter. Their review of the Ikea Bekant was quite preliminary when I reviewed the site. For its sturdiness, smooth movement, range of motion and price, I think it’s the best value out there.*

Ikea Bekant sit-stand desk

My new, life-changing Ikea Bekant sit-stand desk.Afte

Update: After about six weeks using the desk, I can definitively say that it’s a huge improvement over a regular desk. I not only value the ability to change my position effortlessly, I also appreciate the airiness that is achieved with the desk’s clean, crisp, white and simple design.  I would have not imagined adding a larger work surface would make my office feel bigger!

Share your decision making process in the comments below. Are you ready to get up?

* Note: I purchased the Ikea Bekant desk and have not been compensated for my comments.

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