Taking a Stand: If you’re standing at work, get ready for distractions

As my standing-desk experiment rolled out, everyone wanted to talk about it

A full week into my standing-desk experiment, I’ve got one definitive piece of advice for anyone who might adopt this lifestyle change: If you are going to stand at work, don’t start when you’ve got a big project due. Everyone, and I mean everyone—from your boss to the office manager to the interns—will do a double take while walking past your desk, then feel compelled to double back to discuss your newly odd behavior. At length.

I installed my desk extension the day of a major article deadline, and thanks to a steady stream of visitors, curiosity seekers, and commentators, what should have been one day spent tackling revisions stretched into two.

Some observers were benignly banal. “Hey, you’re standing!” they would remark. Resisting the temptation to respond sarcastically—“Oh, I hadn’t realized; no wonder my calves are sore.”—I would merely smile back with an equally inane, “Why, so I am.”

Others passively-aggressively pointed out that some people don’t just stand, but also walk while they work. “Did you know Susan Orlean has a treadmill desk?” Yes, I know. Susan Orlean also is a bestselling author and writes for The New Yorker and knows how to snowboard. And was played by Meryl Streep in the movie adaption of her book The Orchid Thief. Maybe I should just give up like the underachiever I am and sit down already.

Still others wanted to get into the nitty-gritty. They would stand in front of my monitor, test the keyboard —“Hey, you’re left-handed!”—and delve into specifics. “How about stretching?” “What are you doing to strengthen your core?”

So, all in all, not the most productive couple days of my working life.

On the plus side, all the interruptions distracted me from the fact that, you know, standing is harder than you think. It gets pretty tiring. Your feet get sore. Your back does, too. None of which I realized until day four, when co-workers who had stopped to chat at length just breezed by with a quick “Ah, still standing!” leaving me to contemplate my achy ankles in leisurely solitude. As I head into week two, some stretching and core-strengthening will be on the agenda.

A few other quick notes:

  • I ordered the Speedy Stand Up Desk (previously $129.99, now just $79)
    from Amazon. It turned out to be essentially a long skinny lectern
    that sits on top of my office desktop. Thanks to extensive Ikea
    assembly experience, I found it easy to put together. However, either
    I ordered the wrong color model, or it looks nothing like the photos,
    because it doesn’t come close to matching my office furniture. But
    this is not really about aesthetics.
  • I’m still figuring out how to adjust my monitor to avoid looking
    down and pinching my neck. There are adjustable monitor racks for
    sale, but for now I am pulling selections from my bookshelf and using them to lift the screen. So
    far, I’ve settled on two hefty volumes when wearing flats; four books
    for wedges.
  • Standing does seem to translate into more overall movement. As
    noted in the last post, according to my not-exactly-scientific
    Fitbit tracking, I averaged about 3,600 steps during my sedentary
    workdays. During the first week of standing, I logged an
    average of 4,500. Not a huge improvement, but certainly noticeable.
    Most of those steps came about through a surprising new habit; pacing around my office while reading through manuscripts. It
    never would have occurred to me before to get out of my chair to do
    this, but I found that it resulted in great concentration.
  • I could not stand and eat. Just too weird.