The First-Timer’s Guide To Choosing A Standing Desk You Won’t End Up Hating

Finding the right standing desk means weighing more options than you might imagine. Grab a tape measure.

The First-Timer’s Guide To Choosing A Standing Desk You Won’t End Up Hating
[Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

I’d been thinking about getting a standing desk for a long time, but I couldn’t quite take the plunge.

It wasn’t for lack of interest. I spend a lot of time at my desk, so I was anxious to figure out a new setup that didn’t leave me seated for eight hours a day. What finally pushed me to commit was when one of my time-coaching clients told me her standing desk was helping her to be more productive.

But soon after I finally started to research them in earnest, I found myself a little overwhelmed with all the options on the market. Here’s how I managed to comb through everything before finally settling on a standing desk I love.

Purpose-Built Or Add-On?

The first fork in the road for anyone considering a standing desk is to decide between a setup that’s purpose-built for standing and an addition that converts your existing desk for that function.

If you like your existing desk, it’s worth exploring the add-on options first. But if you aren’t too enthused with it, you’ll probably want to go for a new one that lets you stand. In my experience, most of those are in the $600–$1,000 range, and most tend to offer a good desk to sit at plus the ability to easily adjust your work surface up and down. A few of the more popular options I looked at include StandDesk, UpDesk’s UpWrite, and UpLift 900.

As I continued to look into standing desks, I also heard about the Milk Desk. It’s a height-adjustable model that also includes some storage compartments, a departure from most standing desks that are really meant to streamline everything with only a flat work surface. That feature caught my interest.

Pare Down Or Add Options?

After all, was I shopping around for a standing desk just to get on my feet, or in order to rethink my work setup altogether? If it was the latter, what other types of adjustments should I consider making?

This was a useful thought experiment. When I first started to research desk models, I imagined myself ending up with two separate workstations–the one I already used, for sitting, and a new one for standing. In my office there’s already a large desk that works great for supporting a monitor, computer, and printer, plus contains plenty of drawer space.

But did I really want to add to that in order to give myself the option to stand? On further thought, I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of putting two desks in a relatively small office, and the more research I did, the less I realized I’d need to. I didn’t want to overhaul my work setup completely by condensing my storage space, a goal some models seemed dead-set on accomplishing–I just wanted to get on my feet.

As a result, I ended up shying away from standalone standing desks and began to look more closely at attachments that turn your normal workstation into a standing option, products like Varidesk, Ergotron Workfit, and Kangaroo Junior. Since I already had a desk that worked overall, I decided to go with an attachment. The question was which one.

Finding A Fit

Whether you’re trying to decide on a new standing desk or an attachment, it’s important to think about not only your work style but also the existing equipment you use. For example, if you need double monitors, a keyboard, and a writing space, make sure that everything will fit. And also measure up to ensure that the width and depth of your desk or desk attachment fits your workspace without being cumbersome.

In my case, I ended up going with the Kangaroo Junior because its footprint was narrower than Varidesk; I couldn’t fit my printer and other items on my work surface as well as having a standing attachment with too wide a base. I also liked the fact that my monitor and keyboard could easily sit on the surface of the Kangaroo Junior. And for a small fee, I could have it arrive preassembled. I also liked that I’d be able to move both the monitor and keyboard tray up and down as I liked.

All of this is to say that the question, “Is a standing desk right for me?” is a little misleading. You really need to ask yourself which standing setup will fit best with the way you already work. And while that may sound obvious, it’s something you’ll only really come to grips with while researching your options.

While you do, don’t just think about your work habits–be sure to pay attention to the measurements and even the weight constraints of the equipment in the space you’re trying to modify. (You may even need to buy some new cables to allow your desk to rise a few feet higher and still connect to the outlets.)

Getting Used To The Change

Try not to do what I did on my first day with my new desk setup. I stood up all day and ended up completely exhausted. I even had a bit of a headache. I’m not sure if this was due to the standing itself or because the monitor is now a bit closer to my eyes while standing than it is when I sit down.

After that misstep, my very wise brother who’s used standing desks himself offered a few pointers, and I found a few others online. The general consensus is that you should alternate standing and sitting at roughly 30- to 60-minute intervals. When I tried that strategy, I had a much better experience.

I’m finding that I usually like to start the day standing and then alternate up and down as needed. I don’t set a timer, but if my legs get fidgety when I’m standing, it’s time to move the desk down. When I’m sitting and my legs or hips feel uncomfortable, it’s time to stand up.

My mood and energy level play a role, too. I find that if I’m excited about something or have an energy surge, it helps me concentrate if I get on my feet. If you sometimes find yourself distracted by your own energy at certain times, standing may release just enough of it to allow you to concentrate.

I can’t say for certain whether this new setup is making me more productive. But even researchers who’ve tried to answer that question haven’t yet found anything conclusive. Still, I have found that it’s making me more comfortable throughout the day. And for that alone, the switch has already been worth it.

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