Day 20: The Downside to a Standing Desk

First things first: I love my standing desk. I love my office. I love the entire space.

The office, with it’s big windows, and the custom wood standing desk combo is exactly what I’ve wanted for years and I just love it.

We bought this house back in February, and the standing desk I use today actually came with the house. Well, sort of. The prior owner had an estate sale, which we attended, and we bought the standing desk at that sale. When he moved out he just left it in the office, and when I moved in it was ready and waiting for me.

One thing I learned very quickly when I started working from this desk: when you stand for 8+ hours per day, your feet and legs get really tired.

Standing: Good for Productivity?

There’s no question in my mind that working from a standing desk as opposed to sitting all day is better for me physically. However, I’m not sold that it’s an unqualified win for my productivity.

I’ve found that when my legs get tired my natural tendency is to want to move around and this restlessness seems to influence my mindset. When my legs gets tired, achy, and restless, my mind seems to follow suit. When my mind becomes restless in this way I feel that I sometimes jump back and forth from task to task and have a hard time focusing.

In addition, constantly shifting around on achy legs can be a distraction or a hindrance–especially on video calls or when trying to be still and think in a focused fashion.

Sitting Desks are Just as Bad

This is hardly the final word on standing desks. Lack of focus can be a problem regardless of the type of desk you use. I can remember having back pain while working from a desk chair and that certainly affected my productivity in a fashion not dissimilar from the restlessness I feel now when my legs get tired.

In any case, it does seem to me that working from a standing desk adds a new angle to the challenge of focusing for hours on end.

Calming Restless Legs (and Minds)

I have a few different tactics I employ if I find myself getting excessively fidgety while standing:

  1. My back porch functions as a great occasional second office. I spend time out there in short bursts lasting 30 minutes to 2 hours 2 or 3 times per week.
  2. I have a couch in my office that I sometimes use for focused tasks. If I want to turn off all distractions and focus on something like writing, I’ll often sit on the couch with my laptop on my knees.
  3. If I haven’t moved away from my desk in 2+ hours I may just take 5 minutes away from my computer and take the dogs outside for a bathroom break. They need a break every few hours anyway, and this short time walking around in the yard can be all that I need to refocus.

Time Will Tell

I’ve heard experienced standing desk users say that it takes a full six months for your legs to adapt to standing all day. If that’s true, I’m almost halfway there.

I’ve been standing for the months of March, April, and May. I have definitely noticed that I can stand longer now than I could back in March. I’m hopeful that in three more months my legs will have fully adapted and the issue will resolve itself.

Even if things are exactly the same in three months, I still plan to stick with the standing desk. The productivity issues seem to be basically a wash when comparing sitting and standing desks, and the health benefits put the standing desk clearly into the win column in my book.

6 thoughts on “Day 20: The Downside to a Standing Desk”

  1. I battle with many of these same issues, I have a standing desk and I try to rotate from sitting to standing and vs/vs through the day. I oftentimes find it hard to concentrate when standing, but it’s great for calls and mindless tasks. But when writing or programming etc I really need to be seated. Another issue that I have with standing is that I have an Aeron chair, and based on the cost of it I feel guilty NOT using it lol

    Reply
    • I’ve intentionally not bought a chair because I have a feeling that as soon as I get one I’ll never stand again. I do think sooner or later I may end up getting one of those one-legged balance stools.

  2. I too found that having a fixed-height standing desk led to a strong desire for occasionally sitting down at a desk. The standing desk that I now use is electronically adjustable and allows me to quickly switch from standing-height to sitting-height. That, coupled with a chair that adjusts from standing-desk height to normal sitting-height has been a complete solution for me that ensures that I never get bored or uncomfortable at my desk. (The chair, while not cheap, even allows me to comfortably sit backwards, or kneel on it, or sit sideways, for lots of variations.)

    https://www.vari.com/electric-standing-desk-60×30/FD-ESD6030.html
    https://store.flokk.com/us/en-gb/products/hag-capisco?model=8106-STD&code=0024S7

    Reply
    • That chair looks awesome, though the fact that you have to ask for a price is scary. 🙂

      Since writing this post back in May, I bought a simple wooden stool at IKEA. It’s adjustable, uncomfortable, and perfect. I can sit on it for 20-30 minutes to rest my legs, but it’s not so comfortable I’m ever at risk of camping out on it for too long, and them I’m ready to stand back up.

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