Friday, December 07, 2012

My Standing Desk

Over the years, working at my desk has given my back and neck multiple problems. I've had chronic back, shoulder and neck problems since high school and they only got worse in college. At the time I was on the swim team and was seeing the physical trainer for my shoulder issues. He blamed my long hours at the drafting table for my art projects and said swimming would only help. After I transferred to art school in New York, my swim workouts basically ended. But I found some relief in taking a yoga class my senior year.

Every few years I would get back in the pool for short stints or do my yoga routine more frequently. But the hours at my desk and computer always outweighed any physical activity. I started seeing a chiropractor again about 2 years ago and the physical therapy and massage definitely helped. However, I let myself get into bad habits again and daily found myself slouching over the computer. This was my desk setup in 2009 after I moved into my current apartment. (Woo check out that old second monitor I bought at a house sale for $5! And the all-in-one printer scanner that stopped working at some point.)

My chiropractor suggested trying a standing desk. It sounded like a good idea, but when i started to research standing desks, the top of the line ones were in the $1000s. I decided to modify my desk at work first. They were moving their space around at the office and I spotted a tall shelf that I thought would work well as a standing desk. I set my cintiq on top of the shelf and put another shelf underneath to extend the keyboard out. It seemed to help for a while, but then I was getting incredibly sore feet. The office got me a thin mat which didn't seem to do much in the way of cushioning, so I ended up folding it to make it thicker. I also began wearing sturdy shoes to work, the Merrells that I bought 2 years ago for walking around Europe. My body was getting used to using certain muscles again and I was usually exhausted by the time I got home from standing all day, but my back felt better!

After work, I was also putting in 2 to 3 hours on my comic per night. Eventually I modified my home setup as well. I put a cardboard box on top of my desk and a plexiglass sheet on top of that to stabilize it and extend my keyboard out. On top of that cobbled together desk, sat my cintiq. Not the best solution for an expensive piece of equipment, but it worked for a little while. I folded up my yoga mat and stood on that barefoot but my calves and feet were killing me from standing so much during the day. The angle of the keyboard was also not optimal, a little more than 45 degrees, so I was having wrist problems.

After much research, I finally found a true standing desk where I can adjust the keyboard shelf and the top shelf to the height I need. This is the desk I ended up getting. It's not something you can adjust on the fly, but I measured beforehand and where I set the desk top and keyboard works fine. The only thing I wasn't thrilled about was that the color of the desk I received didn't seem accurate from amazon. I thought it would better match the shelf next to it, but I don't really notice that now. Most importantly it is the perfect size I needed to fit in the space and has a nice spot for the scanner. Prior to the new desk, I was using the scanner as a purse rest and the cats were using it as a bed. Because of course, everything is a bed to a cat. Here they are trying out my new drafting chair, before it's even out of the box.
As you might imagine, some assembly was required on my new desk. But I managed it mostly on my own. Allan helped drill the holes for the keyboard since the ones that were pre-drilled were too small. I always loved Legos as a kid, and it's been way too long since I've assembled anything from Ikea. So this was a fun afternoon for me.

Here is the desk assembled and ready to go! I was researching all kinds of anti-fatigue mats but haven't settled on anything yet. I like to work barefoot, so I want to find something that isn't coated in chemicals and is environmentally safe. For now I continue to stand on a folded up yoga mat. It's also easy to move out of the way so the cats don't claw it when I'm not working.

I found that sitting all the time wasn't good, but neither was standing all day. I started to research some adjustable drafting stools. Most wouldn't reach to the height I needed. I finally found a chair that worked and looked like it was a bargain. It only took about 20 minutes to assemble and looks pretty sleek. I find that I tend to sit when typing and switch back to standing to draw.
And what would my setup be without some work buddies?

I also took some time to swap out some of the art I've had hanging over my desk for the past 4 years for some new prints I picked up at conventions over the past year or so. Voila! New art space. You can also see the kitchen peeping through the doorway to the right of my desk.

I've had the new standing desk set up for about 3 months now and am pretty happy with it. I had the makeshift standing desk at work and home for about 3 months before deciding to purchase an actual standing desk. I feel like I generally have more energy and am less likely to procrastinate online if I'm standing. If I'm invoicing, emailing or writing, I tend to sit to give my feet a rest. Recently I've been working from home full time, so I can also take stretch breaks more frequently. Something about laying on the floor while working at an office doesn't quite work out. The bottom line is that even switching between sitting and standing throughout the day isn't my full solution. Although I take walks around my neighborhood and do some yoga, I really need to start a more serious exercise routine.

If you're thinking of transitioning to a standing desk, remember that it will take a little time to get used to. I still think the overall benefits to standing outweigh my sore feet. Do you use a standing desk? Are you thinking of switching to one? Let me know in the comments! I love talking about work spaces.

Here are some other artists who work at standing desks and helped inform my transition:
Chris Oatley
Michelle Kondrich

There are also lots of Ikea hacks and other low budget solutions if you google standing desks!


Gaby said...

This is so cool! Are you still standing at work? Have other people at your office started standing?

Alisa said...

I've been working from home for the past few months, but when I switched to the standing desk at work a few people were interested in the concept. One of the producers tried it out for a day or two with his laptop but it was makeshift and I don't think it stuck. But the studio owner actually built one for his wife to use at home!

Rachel Page said...

When I found out about standing desk, I immediately used some boxes to make my own. A standing desk doesn't have to be fancy.

Flexible Office Spaces said...

Office spaces with standing desks are not really common. However, they can be very useful since they are more beneficial to one's health. Good for you to have one.

Ben Reynolds said...

I just found your blog through a google search - great setup! I have the same cintiq and I'm thinking of making the switch to a standing desk. How do you find the build quality on this one? Does it stay pretty stable even though its on wheels or does it move around on you a lot? I guess there isn't enough room on it for a second monitor?

Alisa said...

Hi Ben! I've been working at this standing desk for over a year now and it's pretty sturdy. It does have a little give, but I don't really notice it while I'm drawing. I'm never worried that my cintiq is going to crash to the floor.

You're right that there isn't much extra space on the top of the desk, so a second monitor wouldn't fit. I ended up not putting the wheels on at all, so that's not a problem.

I also got a rubber mat a few months ago, your feet will thank you! This is the mat I ended up with:

Hope that helps and good luck if you decide to switch to a standing desk!

Ben Reynolds said...

Alisa, thanks so much for the response! That sounds great. I thought about going without wheels as well..only thing I'm wary about is that I'm 6'1" and I want to make sure the desk will go high enough for me without them.

The other thing I'm not sure about is how it looks like I won't be able to put my legs under the desktop when I do choose to sit (because of the shelves being there), like my desk is now. Even the supports on the ground look like there isn't enough space to slide the chair base betweenbut maybe I'm wrong, is there?

Thanks again for the response and great work by the way! I enjoyed looking at your blog.

Alisa said...

Hmm, it looks like I can still adjust the desk higher than I have it. The specs on the Amazon page should have a maximum height for the desk top. I measured from the ground to where my elbows bend to figure out where the keyboard would be and then added a few inches to where I figured the top of the desk should go. Hopefully that helps you figure out how tall the top of the desk should be for you to work comfortably.

There isn't a lot of space for my knees when I sit and I imagine it'd be less for you if you're over 6 feet tall. I never anchored the shelves in, so I'm sure you could just take them off if you need the extra leg room. Although there is still a cross bar for the shelves that would be there.

And thanks for checking out the rest of my blog!