standing desk attic landing afternoon


One aspect of the writing life that can be challenging is all the sitting. In my most glamorous writing dreams it’s sitting at a wrought iron round table at some French Bistro all morning with espressos and leather bound journals, and in the more realistic version it’s sitting in the corner of a bedroom at a press board Ikea desk with a mason jar of water and my laptop. Still, no matter the location, it’s one of the keys to the writing life: B.I.C.T.— butt in chair time.


sitting desk with chair


But I don’t really like sitting, and it turns out that sitting all the time isn’t that good for you. We need movement: 10,000 steps a day; 3-4 minutes of stretching every 30 to 40 minutes of sitting; standing and moving more than we sit. Chronic sitting and its sister, a sedentary-lifestyle, have been called the “new smoking,” one of the great dangers to health.


I love walking, and if we had the funds and the space, I would get a great treadmill desk in a heartbeat. You walk at a very slow pace (like a mile an hour) and can type while you slowly walk. But we’re in a season of limited space (living in my brother’s attic) and limited funds (living on one paycheck).


attic stairs


A standing desk was a more practical solution right now.


make an ikea dresser into a standing desk


At first I just started to write at the kitchen counter. It worked particularly well having my niece napping in her ergo carrier, bouncing her back to sleep. But not all my work can be done in a composition notebook at the kitchen counter. And a laptop at a kitchen counter isn’t the best long-term solution for good ergonomics.


standing desk ergonomicsimage credit: tinkering monkey


Good ergonomics for a standing desk are three fold. First, what you want in a standing desk is one surface for your separate keyboard and mouse to 1 to 4 inches (2-10 cm) below your elbow. Second, you want the middle or upper third of your screen to be eye-level when your chin is parallel to the ground. Third, you want your screen to be about 20 to 28 inches (50-70 cm) away from your eyes.


The fanciest standing desk stations move, so that you can, with the touch of a button, raise and lower your screen and mouse for a sitting and standing position. Then there are standing desk stations, some of which are on wheels and can be moved around the house, tucked away if necessary. Also there are models you can buy to convert a regular desk to a standing desk with three different surfaces for a keyboard, mouse, and screen. And there are of course, a lot of tutorials about how you can make your own versions of these solutions with cinder blocks, Ikea lack end tables, or even dyi treadmill desks.


But I was ideally looking for a solution that involved not buying much or drilling too many holes into my existing furniture. So I measured the distance from my elbow to the ground and went around looking at the furniture we already had.


standing desk attic landing


For me the Ikea Hemnes Dresser Chest was the right height. I’m 5’ 5.5” (167 cm), my elbow is about 40” (102 cm) off the ground, and the Hemnes dresser is about 37.5” (95 cm) tall.


If you don’t want to get out your measuring tape, just go around the house and see if your elbow can touch the surface of a dresser or bookshelf while maintaining good posture, and then check to see if resting your wrists on the surface feels comfortable for typing.

both desks


For the monitor, I happen to have an old adjustable piano foot rest that raises my monitor about 10 1/2 inches (25 cm) up. But you could use a wall mounted shelf or wooden cube depending on your torso length. (Most standard monitor/lap top stands are going to raise up the screen about 5 inches, so that likely won’t be enough unless you are fairly short.)


One thing to keep in mind, is that it makes the computer really individualized. My 6 foot 4 husband finds using my standing desk (tucked into the sloping attic roof) entirely unworkable if he is doing anything longer than picking out music on Spotify.


But I have absolutely loved having my standing desk. I feel so much better at the end of the day of working on the computer.


mouse and keyboard


Two things that have made it a lot nicer are a magic track pad for a mouse and an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. The magic track pad pad cuts down on the cords and reduces the surface space devoted to the mouse. Also it’s super cool. The anti-fatigue mat (like the kind at grocery stores for clerks to stand on, or sometimes in kitchen in front of sinks) as the day goes on gets nicer and nicer to stand on (and I’m often just working in wool socks.) One thing that I think I’d love to add sometime would be The Level a balancing board of sorts that gives you a slightly instable surface forcing you to move around a bit while you stand.


floor mat for standing desk


What I love about the standing desk set up is that it is easy to grab something and get back to work without that familiar feeling of standing up just to forget what exactly I had gotten up to do. My back feels a lot better, and it is easy to add small movement (swaying to music, or bouncing the baby, or rolling out ankles or shoulders) while working.


standing desk close up


I tend to work on the computer in 90 minute to 2 hours spurts throughout the day, punctuated by a 5 mile walk, or making a meal in the kitchen, or caring for my six month old niece, or doing some yoga or TTapp. I do find that by 7 pm if I’m still trying to work (i.e. helping to grade sophomore history homework on salutary neglect & the navigation acts) that I’m ready to sit down. A down side of using a dresser for your work station is that you can’t really pull up a chair (even a tall one). So I’ll switch to the kitchen table, or sometimes even just pull out my camping chair and grade on the floor.


If I’m doing a lot of hand writing work, I will often put the top of a lack table that we’re not using to raise the surface a couple of inches, or I will just sit down to do it. Also the dresser is great for storing notebooks.


notebooks in drawer


Our environments help it to be easy or make it difficult to make healthy choices—whether that is sitting or standing, eating well, or sleeping deeply. Sometimes that means investing in quality materials, but sometimes it just means hunting around your space and working with what you have to make your physical surrounding reflect your values and dreams.


small vingette

How have you set up your work space to help you work well? Have you ever tried a standing desk?


*Note* This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you were to buy a book, I’d get a tiny commission at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting Stories & Thyme!*


4 Responses to Making & Using a Standing Desk

  1. Brianne says:

    Thanks for including my 30-30 rule in your post! I also have a standing desk and agree that an anti fatigue mat is a wonderful “bonus” to help make the transition. By the way – what a beautiful site you have! I think I’ll go peruse some more. 😉

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Brianne! I’ve love all the posts and the podcast you’ve had on Wellness Mama! I’m so glad you’re doing the good work you are doing!!

  2. Deborah Rogers says:

    Hi Amy:

    Thanks for your great ideas for a standing desk. I’m experimenting at work with doing my progress notes while standing and already am feeling better physically. You continue to inspire me with your practical and beautiful suggestions. Please keep writing!!!


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