Stand in the Place Where You Work


It’s common knowledge that pretty much everything people enjoy is deadly. Liquor, promiscuity, fudge, corn dogs, homemade penicillin, eating things you find on the subway, bear-baiting, all of it will kill you. A person prone to hyperbole might say, in exasperation, “Fine! To avoid the world’s dangers, I’ll just sit quietly in a comfortable chair!” Well, guess what, Mr. Sarcasm, sitting down will also kill you.

I learned this the same way most of us learn things, through an eye-catching chart on the Internet. (The average person acquires 65% of his or her new information through Internet charts, according to an Internet chart.) This infographic lays out a few facts that, upon reflection, were probably common sense anyway. Sitting for several hours a day is bad for your circulation, it makes your metabolism slow down, you burn almost no calories, you gain weight more readily, and then you get heart disease and die.

Like I said, you could probably figure this out yourself if you ever thought about it. The problem is that people with desk jobs look at that information and think, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. I have a job that requires me to sit down all day.” And then we figure that means we’re off the hook. Surely we won’t suffer the consequences that come from sitting all day if the decision to sit all day is not ours to make. That wouldn’t be fair.

Then I learned that some people with desk jobs are taking measures to do less sitting, by switching to so-called “standing desks.” Of course, all desks are standing. Desks don’t lie down. “Standing desk” means that the desk itself is taller than normal, so that the user can work at it while standing rather than sitting. It’s the person who is standing, not the desk. “Standing-at desk” would make more sense than “standing desk,” but it wasn’t up to me.

Anyway, standing desks are all the rage in office settings nowadays. The New York Times wrote about the trend more than a year ago, which means it must have been popular since at least a year before that. Google “standing desk” and you’ll find many articles and blog entries on the subject, including testimonials from people who have converted to the new system and now won’t shut up about it. Some manufacturers have even introduced adjustable-height desks that allow users to easily alternate between standing and sitting.

Needless to say, the idea of standing all day instead of sitting was met with significant skepticism on the part of me. I love sitting down! Sitting is great. It’s almost my favorite of the standard bodily positions. In fact, the only thing I like better than sitting down is lying down. Here, let me rank them for you, in order of my preference.

1. Lying down
2. Sitting down
3. Rolled up like a pillbug
4. Squatting
5. Bending over
6. Hanging upside-down
7. Suspended in midair with my limbs tied to four horses

An affinity for sitting is one of the main reasons I became a writer in the first place. If I’m going to have to stand up while I write, I might as well get a real job.

But a lot of people swear by the standing desk. Ernest Hemingway stood while he worked, right up until he got tired of it and blew his head off with a shotgun. Great thinkers like Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, and Donald Rumsfeld were proponents of the standing desk. Donald Rumsfeld, you guys!! And I’m not afraid to try new things. That’s how I discovered homemade penicillin. I wasn’t prepared yet to commit to a lifestyle change this drastic, but if I could rig up a temporary standing desk and experiment with it, perhaps I could see if Standism held any appeal for me.

I had a footstool that was just the right height. I put the footstool on my desk, put my computer and keyboard on the footstool, and voila! Immediately I started saying French words like voila. Not sure if this was related to the standing.

My major apprehension was that standing for most of the day would make my feet and legs hurt. That’s what happens when I go someplace where there’s a lot of standing in line, like film festivals, or Disneyland, or outside your mom’s bedroom (OH SNAP!). Also, supermarket cashiers and other retail employees often have to stand still for long periods of time, and they never look happy about that, or about anything.

Sure enough, after the first day my feet were tired and sore. It felt like I’d been standing on them all day! Whose stupid idea was this? But I also noticed that I had been more energetic and productive. Sitting is associated with many leisure activities, such as reading, playing video games, watching TV, napping, and not working. So if you sit while you work, it’s very easy to become lethargic, and to drift from working into doing something else. You pause from your labors momentarily to check Facebook, and next thing you know you’ve watched seven episodes of “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix.

But when you’re standing, you’re DOING something. You’re getting’ stuff DONE. No sense standing around wasting time! If I wanted to waste time, I would sit down!

That’s how it works for me, anyway. It’s a psychological thing. Within a few days I had become a convert to Standism. I got some gel inserts for my shoes and found something to use as a footrest so I can put one foot up when I want to, like champion alcoholics do at bars. I have a tall stool that I can sit on if I want to take a break without a complete work stoppage. And I do sit down periodically, of course. I sit when I eat or talk on the phone or go to the bathroom. And whereas I used to do all three of those things at once, now I spread them out, to allow for more sitting opportunities. I no longer take sitting for granted! Now sitting is a special event, a moment to be treasured by me, my butt, and whatever soft surface is under me.

I’ve been a Standist for four weeks now. I’m more focused on work than I used to be, and I accomplish more. Why, just other day I made FIVE jokes on Twitter that I thought were pretty good. I don’t know if any improvements to my health have kicked in yet, but I can definitely confirm that I haven’t died of heart disease, so that’s something.