I Think, Ergonomics: What TWs Should Stand For

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This is not a product plug. Okay, it’s mostly a product plug, but I’ll distract you first with some references to serious, academic research. The first, of course, is from Dilbert: When the pointy-headed boss orders a stand-up desk, his secretary thoughtfully schedules a mover to remove it the day after it arrives. As any factory worker could have told the PHB, standing all day can be hard on the legs and the back. And yet, as members of the new species homo sedentes, we’re also aware that sitting all day is insanely unhealthy. Spending all day in our chairs increases the risks of cardiovascular disease (Hamilton, 2007), type 2 diabetes (Hu, 2003), lower back pain (Bendix, 1994), and some forms of cancer (Boyle, 2011).

Still, despite the potential pain from standing all day, working at a stand-up desk has its advantages. Not only does it reduce the nasty risks listed above, but it also increases caloric consumption for adults (Reiff, 2012) and children (Benden, 2014). As you might expect, treadmill desks increase caloric consumption even more than stand-up desks (MacEwen, 2014), but I don’t think I can type as fast while I’m walking (though I’ve got gum-chewing pretty much figured out).

The obvious answer is to change your position throughout the work day, and I admire anyone with the willpower and focus to maintain the right ergonomic balance between sitting, standing, and walking. As for me, it can take a lot to get me out of the chair, especially when the fingers are flying, the words are cascading, and is that a deadline I hear knocking at my door? I could set a “Stand Up!”  alarm to go off after 45 minutes… but every alarm has a snooze button. For me, the best solution is to keep some necessary part of my work on a separate stand-up desk – papers that I have to refer to, etc.

But which stand-up desk? You can easily spend $1,000 on an electric model that goes from sitting to standing at the touch of a button. On the other end of the scale, some writers do fine with a wooden block that sits on top of a regular desk to elevate the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I have no problem with other people’s solutions, but the stand-up desk of my dreams is the AlphaBetter Desk. I originally bought it because it was the cheapest adjustable-height table that could handle the weight of my equipment. It was only after I started using the AlphaBetter that I discovered the beauty of the fidget bar.

You can see the fidget bar in action at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd-Uys3-9To, about 20 seconds in. Now, I’m sure the fidget bar is a wonderful way to get kids to burn off excess energy and focus on their work. But for me, the fidget bar staves off the stand-up desk’s risk of leg and back pain. Keep one leg moving, then the other – it’s a cinch. The desktop is 24 inches deep, which is a little shallow for some folks’ workstations, but as I said, I use it mostly for the papers that I need to go through. So yes, I’m sold on the AlphaBetter Desk (literally; we’ve bought a second one for our office), and no, I don’t get a discount for promoting it.

Anyway, that’s my solution. What stand-up product do you stand for?

Dan Goldstein

Dan Goldstein was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, known to its denizens as “ten square miles surrounded by reality.” In tenth grade, Sylvia Mintz taught him everything he knows about writing. Years later (thirtieth grade, approximately), Neil Churgin taught him everything he knows about technical writing. Since 2002, Dan has specialized in Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance for medical devices, which is actually a lot of fun.

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