In 2010 I started experimenting with a standing desk setup after learning how bad sitting all day is. By 2011 I was working at a standing desk full time. I wrote a 1-year follow-up but I haven’t posted about it much since.
I’m still standing, but over the past few months I overhauled my office to better fit the way I’m working in 2016.
The Problem With My Old Setup
In short, my main issue has been the same problem that I mentioned in my first post: fatigue.
On a normal week it wasn’t a problem. I’d stand for three full days, work (seated) from the warehouse one day, and have one day where I was meeting with my partners and working part of the day standing.
Not every week goes like that though. Sometimes I don’t go in to the warehouse, we don’t have a meeting, or I have to work nights and weekends to launch something or do server maintenance. There were weeks where I’d stand 60 hours instead of 30 hours. Or days where I’d stand 12 hours fixing a bug. Or nights where I’d need to get up in the middle of the night to fix something and stand for two hours. Throw in some soreness from a workout and some weeks I was reaching the point where I thought standing was doing more harm than good. My posture would suffer and my back would start to hurt from standing too long (one of the main reasons I started standing in the first place was to help my back).
I always told myself that I could just unplug my laptop and sit down, but I never did because I didn’t want to switch from using two screens to one, and from using my mouse and keyboard to a laptop keyboard and small wireless mouse. Small difference to some, but enough to turn me off.
My New Additions
About a year ago I made a few additions that helped for a while:
- A Mogo Seat – this gives you something to lean against while standing. Sort of a half-sitting, half-standing position.
- A tennis ball to keep under my feet while working. Playing with this helps to prevent me from being in the same position for too long.
- A foot stool to put a leg up on, again to keep me from being in one position for too long.
Those things helped, but sometimes I just needed to sit. This became particularly clear while doing all of our site and server updates. I was working at all hours of the day, worn out mentally and physically. Standing just seemed to wear me out more.
I finally bit the bullet and made a purchase I’d been eyeing for a long time: a VariDesk. I bought the Pro Plus 36″ for $395 (pictured above in the standing position). VariDesks are great because they sit right on top of your existing desk. They have 11 different height adjustments. They also have a tiered keyboard/mouse deck, which was important for me because on my old setup my keyboard and mouse were too high up, potentially causing posture problems. Check out the video below:
Upgrading My Monitors
As soon as I set up my VariDesk I had a problem: my dual monitors didn’t fit properly. It was only a few inches shorter than my old table top, but that was enough to make it impossible to get the angle that I liked. I wasn’t all that upset about this though because I had been itching to upgrade these as well. Last year my business partner Mike set up a 2560 x 1440 monitor and I immediately fell in love: that additional height from 1080 to 1440 makes a huge difference.
There was only one problem: the graphics card for my ASUS Zenbook didn’t appear to support anything above 1080p. I did figure out how to get that to work (more on that below), which removed my “barrier to entry” so to speak.
I picked up a Monoprice 27″ monitor with a 2560 x 1440 resolution for only $250. After researching monitors quite a bit, Monoprice’s were by far the best value. I set up a spreadsheet to calculate pixels per inch to ensure that the text wouldn’t be too tiny. At 23″ or 25″ I would have had to squint. 27″ was perfect.
After about a week of use I realized that I still wanted a second monitor. No matter how much screen space I have, sometimes I want to go full-screen with an application and still have something else off to the side, such as a to-do list, Google Doc, or a Skype conversation. Lucky for me we had an unused 1080p monitor at the warehouse at the exact pixels per inch to match the Monoprice monitor. I bought a $27 computer mount on Amazon and mounted it vertically as you can see in the photo. 1080 x 1920 is really ideal for reading a document.
Displaying 2560 x 1440 With My ASUS Zenbook
Taking a step back for anyone who is interested: getting the Zenbook to display a 2560 x 1440 resolution wasn’t that easy. First I bought a USB video adapter, which was a total piece of crap. It works by “utilizing your computer’s CPU and GPU, and then compressing and transmitting the output via USB”, which for me translated to a spike in CPU and memory when I dragged something across the screen quickly! And I’ve got a quad-core i7 processor with 10 GB of RAM!
Then I did some Googling and found out that it was kind-of-sort-of possible to get this to work natively using the HDMI out. The Zenbook’s Intel HD 4000 graphics can be edited to support resolutions beyond 1080p by adding a custom resolution mode. By following the instructions on that link I was able to get the monitor to work at 44 Hz. Anything beyond that wouldn’t work, which for me is not noticeable since I’m not playing games or anything. That took me a lot longer to figure out than it should have. Hopefully I can save someone else the frustration by posting this.
Update 6/17/17: after the Windows 10 Creator Update my custom resolution was gone. Thankfully it’s reasonably easy to set up again within Intel’s software. It did require a restart for me though before the 2560 x 1440 resolution showed up as an option again.
How I Work Now
Back to my new setup. So far it’s been amazing! I’ve been spending about 75% of my time standing. I split the remaining 25% between sitting and using the Mogo Seat (which I’m doing right now as I type!) The 11 different height adjustments on the VariDesk have been more important than I realized they’d be. I thought all I needed was the extremes: all the way up, all the way down. A few notches down is perfect for the Mogo Seat though. I wasn’t even thinking about incorporating the Mogo Seat after buying the VariDesk, but it works so well that I’ve been using it quite a bit.
My Must-Have List For Standing Desks
I’ve been working at a standing desk for almost 5 years now. If you’re thinking about switching, I recommend trying it for as cheaply as possible like I did. Either take a small end table and place it on top of your desk, or buy a compact standing desk setup on Amazon for less than $100.
But when you’re ready to get serious about doing it every day, I think it’s worth spending some money on. For me (and probably for you), I spend more time working than I do any other activity. I want it to be as ergonomically beneficial as possible. Here’s my list for making the switch without spending a fortune. Everything below can be purchased for less than $600 total:
- A VariDesk or similar equivalent that can work in both standing and seated positions – $395
- An anti-fatigue mat for standing – $13.99 for the mat I’m using
- A tennis ball and stool or chair to rest your leg on – less than $30, free if you have these things around the house like most people do
- A Mogo Seat for leaning – $99
Why no sneakers? I prefer standing barefoot.
I’m obviously still a huge fan of standing and moving for most of the day. It takes a net negative for your body (sitting) and turns it around into a positive. Over a lifetime of work I believe it’ll make a big difference. I love that I now have the added flexibility to lean or sit if needed without downgrading my computer setup to do so.