Is a $22 Stand Up Desk Hack Suitable for Video Editing?

Over the weekend I built a $22 standing desk. I’ve wanted to try a standing desk for awhile. Part of this is due to the increasing frequency of stories about how sitting is the new smoking, and part of this is due to my fidgety nature.

Cost has always held me back. I didn’t want to drop $1000 on an experiment that may not be my cup of tea. I finally decided to take the plunge when I came across an interesting Ikea hack. Adding years to my life is worth $22 right?

I'm sharing this with because editors and other post production professionals tend to spend about as much time sitting as software developers. Towards the end of the post I have some thoughts on how well this setup would work for editing.

Why Stand?

Over that last year or two, I’ve seen plenty headlines about standing desks and the health benefits of making the switch. The headlines intrigued me, but didn’t really motivate me to read up on the topic until my wife plunked down an article titled sitting is the new smoking, and it’s time to quit.

The framing of the article finally got me to read below the fold. Some of obvious effects of sitting too much include bad posture, tight leg muscles, a sore back and all sorts of other aches and pains. The attention grabbing perils of sitting all day include elevated risks of:

  • Heart disease
  • A number of different cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • An early death.

Further, research shows that that the negative effects of sitting can’t be countered with exercise. No amount of running and hitting the gym is going to dig you out of this hole.

If you want to read more about the health effects, check out Confirmed: He Who Sits the Most Dies the Soonest , or this great roundup from the wirecutter.

My Personal Reasons For Switching to a Stand Up Desk

Not wanting to die is a pretty strong motivator. I just celebrated my birthday and have been feeling older. I’ve always been pretty active, but since my daughter was born two years ago, days on the mountain bike few and far between.

Chasing a two-year old burns some calories, but not matter how active she is, it’s not the same as a 4 hour bike ride. As she grows older and more active, I want to be in shape to enjoy time with her. I want to encourage her to spend lots of time doing outdoor activities, so I’d better be able to keep up with her as she drags me up the mountainside.

Switching to a stand up desk is part of a big picture effort to be live a more active lifestyle.

I’m sharing all of this is that I believe in the power of social persuasion. Research shows that if you make a public commitment to do something, you are much more likely to follow through with it. At those times when you feel like breaking your commitment you remember the others who have listened to your public pronouncements.

So you, are my public commitment. I plan to follow up with some additional posts on how things are going.

My Objectives

Beyond public commitments, a powerful motivator for making change is defining your goals and measuring your progress against them. That’s why you see the growth in pedometers and fitness tracking tools.

I’m aiming for a mix of 50% sitting and 50% standing. I haven’t seen a definitive answer about what the optimal mix is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not 100%. I’ll look at adjusting the mix when I hit this target.

Based on my average work schedule, this means 5 hours a day standing. I plan to work my way up to this by increasing the amount of standing time by one hour each week, so I should hit this in 5-weeks. I’ll report back to you on this at the end of July.

I like the slow and steady pace for making the change. I’m worried that I’ll burn myself out and get discouraged if I jump right into 50% or 100% standing.

The other worry about jumping right in is that I don’t want this to become a distraction for my work. What’s the point of doing this if I can’t concentrate or get anything done. Some people quit smoking cold turkey, but for others it’s a bit more of a journey.

Rather than doing my stand-up time in a single session each day, I’m going to mix this in with using the Pomodoro technique that Josh outlined last week. I’ll do a 25 minute interval standing, a 3 minute break, and a 25 minute interval sitting. Each week, I’ll add two more standing intervals.

To keep track of things I’m going to use a sit-stand timer or a pomodoro timer.

Hopefully, I’ll feel sharper, more productive, and healthier.

My Search for the Right Stand Up Desk

I started my search with this wirecutter article that is based on real world testing of some of the most popular standing desks.

NextDesk Stand Up Work Station

I would love to run out and get the highly recommended NextDesk Terra. The motorized adjustable desk is beautiful. It has an Apple like attention to details like cable management, ergonomics, and sustainable manufacturing. Unfortunately, I don’t have $1500-2000 to burn right now. Plus, I’ve already got a nice big desk in my office.

Rather than replacing my desk, I started to look for units that I could put on top of it to create a sit-stand workstation. The Kangaroo Pro Junior looks like one of the best options.

Kangaroo Pro

This adjustable height desk unit has a work surface with a VESA monitor. The work surface can be raised and lowered very quickly, and the monitor height can also be adjusted to a different height when sitting or standing. The company offers several different options with different sized worksurfaces, and different monitor mounts including dual monitor options.

Another good looking option is the Varidesk Pro Plus, which offers a nice big workspace that you can raise and lower, as well as, a keyboard tray that can be adjusted to the right height.

Varidesk Pro Plus

What separates these two units from some of the others that I have seen is the fact that the keyboard and monitor heights can be adjusted independently. This is a big plus from an ergonomics perspective.

The biggest drawback to the Kangaroo Pro Junior and the Varidesk Pro Plus is price. Both options looks well made, but I want to be sure that standing up is for me before spending $350-500.

In the end, I decided to hack together my workstation using Ikea components. I’ll use my experience with this approach to test the waters, figure out what features are important to me and decide whether I want or need to spend more.

The $22 Ikea Hack

I got this design from Colin Nederkoorn's Blog. You simply add an Ikea Lack table to an existing desktop, set your monitor on top of it, and make a keyboard shelf at or slightly below elbow height using an Ekby Viktor shelf, and two Ekby Valter brackets to hold it up. If you need space for a second monitor, you can simply add another table to the setup.

As you can see, it’s not super pretty, but it’s functional. I have the luxury of working in an office where I don’t have to entertain clients, so the visual appeal of my solution isn’t the primary consideration. Even so, everything would look better with some different lighting and a tidier desk (that’s a whole other project).

My Stand Up Desk

The great thing about this setup is that it the keyboard and the monitor are separately adjustable. I think most people have their monitor’s placed too low and consequently get a sore neck from looking down. Take a look at how well my setup compares with the optimal ergonomics.

Wired Standing Desk

Illustration: Wired Magazine

Assembly only took about half an hour. This is about ¼ the amount of time that I spent going through the maze at Ikea and eating my obligatory plate of meatballs.

The hardest part was getting the keyboard setup at the right height. I grabbed a couple of clamps from my garage and used those to secure the brackets while I tried different keyboard heights. I attached the brackets using a couple of wood screws from my garage.

When I drilled a pilot hole for the screws, I noticed that the table legs are hollow. Some people have suggested adding bolts that go right through the legs instead of just using wood screws. I might upgrade later, but that would mean another trip to the hardware store to get the right parts.

So far, I’ve found that the setup is quite stable. The weight of the monitor keeps things from tilting forward if you put a bit of weight on the keyboard tray. There is a tiny bit of bounce while typing, but nothing that’s really distracting.

Limitations Of the $22 Option For Video Editors

The biggest limitation to this setup is that it’s not adjustable. I plan to alternate between sitting and standing after each of my Pomodoro intervals.

I’ll use my large display when I’m standing up (my carrot), and when I’m sitting I’ll move the keyboard and mouse down to my normal desktop and use my laptop monitor (my stick). I’ll use a laptop stand to raise the display up to a decent height because I can’t stand the kinked neck I get when I look down at it.

This is where I think the Ikea solution could fall short for editors. If you want to alternate between sitting and standing, you’ll need two different monitors. If you use a laptop, then you could use that for one of your monitors, but it means sacrificing space in one of the positions.

If you use a desktop, then adding an extra monitor takes up a bunch of real estate and if you are dealing with professional grade equipment, it probably isn’t worth the investment. In this case, if you want to keep your existing desk, the Kangaroo Pro or the Varidesk adjustable risers would probably be a smarter investment (Varidesk apparently has a risk free 30-day trial, so that could be a way to experiment).

I guess the other option would be to get a stool, but well designed stools that are made for standing workstations cost more than the desktop units.

Another consideration for editors is peripherals and cable lengths. Since I’m more of a spreadsheet jockey, my only wired peripheral is my keyboard (why can’t Apple do a number pad on its wireless keyboard). This makes moving between workspaces pretty easy. If you have a bunch of things tethered to your laptop or desktop, switching places could create some problems. Again, simply raising or lowering your stuff in one place might be preferable.

Finally, @jessekoepke mentioned a that a friend of his has a motorized adjustable desk and that lowering it is quite helpful for in person review sessions. This makes a lot of sense, as not all clients are going to want to stand up beside you.

All of this said, it still might make sense to hack something together and see if it works for you before spending more money. If you decide to hack a desk together, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Last Thoughts

I’m a week iinto using the desk now, and I’ve noticed that I’m moving around much more than I expected. It’s totally subconscious and I don’t feel distracted by it, but I’m getting the blood flowing by swaying, standing on one foot, and moving up onto the balls of my feet. I haven’t started dancing yet, but it’s probably coming.

I guess movement is really the point. Experts aren’t saying that you should stand rigidly at attention (that’s probably as bad as sitting). I think the health benefits come from the increased motion and the subtle muscle movements that take place. Some, experts such as Doctor James Levine, the Mayo Clinic doctor that popularized research in this area, are suggesting using a treadmill desk to really keep you moving.

Using a cushioned mat is probably a going to be a good idea as I increase the number of hours I spend standing. I didn’t want to delay things, so I started without a mat, but I’m going to take the plunge soon. Since researching mats is pretty dull, give this article a read and select one of the top picks.

Finally, wearing good supportive footwear is a must. I feel really good wearing an old pair of birkenstocks that are too cracked to really walk in. Once I have a mat in place I’ll try going barefoot since I usually find that even more comfortable than sandals.

I’ll update you on my progress in late July. By that time, I should be ready for a treadmill desk.