March 29, 2010

Improve Productivity and Health by Relocating your Chair

by with 18 comments

A few months ago I started standing during my working day. The center of the
30″ display is at eye level, with the keyboard and trackball slightly above hip
level.

Motivation

I’ve read that sitting throughout the day (with your upper body supported by
leaning against the back of the chair) causes the back and abdominal muscles
which would otherwise be exerted holding your body upright to atrophy. There
seems to be some research to support this. There are even specific types of
chairs designed to enforce self-supporting posture.

I’ve experimented with many hacks to my personal space work arrangement over
the years. Many have been dead ends, but often enough they’ve been useful.

Transition

At first I couldn’t comfortably stand all day. My feet would be sore after
3 to 4 hours, so I would stand in the morning, and transition to sitting
whenever my feet complained. Changing between different pairs of shoes helped,
and being barefoot helped but was cold during the winter. I eventually settled
most often on some good quality slippers that just keep my feet warm with
minimal padding or support. You can find slippers that look almost like
professional footwear.

Positive changes I’ve noticed

  • When I’m in a moment of thought while hacking, I’ve noticed that the
    absence of any required effort to “get up” means that I have a greater tendency
    to step away from the screen while I think. I might pace around or look out
    the window.
  • No lower back pain toward the end of the day.
  • My back is overall stronger (that’s apparent through tracking my regular
    resistance training)
  • I’m warmer (higher in the room where the warmer air is, plus the effort to
    stand does burn more calories and maintains body heat.)
  • Reduced eye strain, likely because of more frequent focusing on distant
    objects.
  • Keyboard and trackball positions are slightly more comfortable with less
    pronation. I still eventually plan switching to a vertical keyboard (typing in
    handshake position instead of palms downward.)
  • Minor but noticeable improvements to digestion and elimination. This may
    sound a bit unusual to discuss, but it’s not surprising. Peristalsis seems to
    suffer from prolonged periods of little body motion.

Negative changes

  • I look like a weirdo with a monitor on a chair on a desk. I’m used to
    standing out, but I’ll get proper display mounts eventually.
  • Less tolerance for long periods of chair sitting. A couple times a week I
    work at a coffee shop. The first couple of hours of this are now actually more
    comfortable, but that ends sooner.
  • People on the internet will laugh at you.
Comments
  1. I'm with you, I've been planning a migration to standing usage for a while, I just don't have the office yet.

  2. read somewhere once about a treadmill desk, with the goal to walk at round 2km/h all day. slow and leisurely, but apparently works wonders for your health

  3. read somewhere once about a treadmill desk, with the goal to walk at round 2km/h all day. slow and leisurely, but apparently works wonders for your health

  4. I understand that Ernest Hemingway stood at a typewriter while writing. I don't think he used a chair.

  5. i built a higher desk yesterday and start to experiment with different layouts and levels over the coming weeks. hope to come up with something that looks good enough to put in the office :-) the current "draft" is pretty much just some boards and screws and looks still very rough…

  6. i just switched to a standing desk and i'm really liking it. the first week or so is hell but after you get used to it it's much better. i used to have a lot of back soreness after a long day of hacking but it's all but gone now. still working on the sore feet though but every day it gets better.

  7. Alan, reading that you're experimenting with standing rather than sitting at your desk really makes me wonder.

    How about applying effort to fixing the very serious bugs in your software rather pissing around with unproductive pastimes and then having the gall to write a blog entry about it – "our software reliability is crap, but hey, look at me, I don't use a chair"

  8. Glenn,

    Usually 80% of results come from 20% of the activities. Play is an important part of work. If you don't like the idea, I recommend you try being less of a workaholic (I assume you are since you expect others to be).

    Cheers!

  9. I just raised my two desks up to 42" last night. So far today (4 hrs of use) I absolutely love the difference it has made. I will post pictures and more info, once I've used it for about a week. Great idea. Thanks for taking the time to post your experience.

  10. Okay, 11 days later, and I'm never going to go back to sitting down all day. Can't believe how great it feels. My only additional suggestion is to get a nice thick rug and possibly a pad or anti-fatigue mat. I ware crocs and my wife purchased me a very thick rug, and it makes it even better. Thanks for the post, what a difference.

  11. this is great. standing is so much more natural. plus I've just got a monitor that can be rotated which is kinda cool as moving the eyes up/down needs less effort than left/right. cheers