Escaping the Sitting desk

Header_Desk_WA

If you’re an artist or a writer, it’s a fair bet that you spend most of your time sitting. And if you have an office day-job, the amount of time you spend on your butt hunched over a screen is probably the vast majority of the time you spend awake. As studies have shown, this is pretty darn bad for your health, but what can we do? It’s not like we can draw while we’re at the gym!

Danger-of-Sitting

This was the conundrum I faced when I was still working as an Engineer. I had frequent migraines, muscle spasms in my back, and near constant pain in my neck and shoulders. I wondered what I could do to escape the curse of the chair without abandoning the necessity of my job or the creative work that gave my life meaning.

A Stand-Up Solution I Couldn’t Afford

The solution that many people proposed was the standing desk. It forces you out of the chair and onto your feet. Even some prominent web-based creatives decided to make the switch. I looked at John Green with his treadmill desk, pledging to write his next novel entirely “on the go” in his office.

And I drooled over the custom-made drafting table that Dave Kellett of “Sheldon,” “Drive,” and “Stripped” fame. He’d designed the ultimate standing desk and his brother had built it.

DaveKellet

Naturally, I was eager to get on this band-wagon full of smart and successful people. Until I saw the price-tag. John’s treadmill desk cost $1,500+ and I was fresh out of a handy carpentry-inclined sibling. I wasn’t even sure a standing desk would work for me, so what was the point? Then I had another migraine. I decided to keep looking. Eventually, I did find a solution.

A Standing Desk for $200 or Less

Here’s my current work-station:

myDesk

The key components are:

Which brings us to a grand total of about $192, depending on where you buy. Also pictured are a side-table and a bar stool I stole from other rooms in the house, but you could probably find similar items at a garage sale for not too much extra expense. The desk itself is adjustable, raising up to a height of 38,” which is a little short for me (I’m 5′ 7″) which is why I added the stand on top. The anti-fatigue mat is a must, because your legs are going to get VERY tired a lot faster than you imagine, and the mat can help prevent new health problems caused by too much standing. Speaking of which, in my research I discovered that standing all day isn’t a guarantee for perfect health. Turns out that it has a whole bunch of health issues on its own. The ideal situation is that you do neither sitting nor standing for too long. It’s the variety that’s important. Hence the bar stool. Just be careful not to get too comfortable in the chair again, otherwise you’ve lost the whole point!

The Impact of Standing

Overall I’ve really enjoyed the switch to a standing desk. I feel more active, engaged, and focused when I’m standing. My work ethic received a boost, as I find that the temptation to answer email, surf the web, or engage in other computer-based time-wasters is much less. I was more energized at my engineering job as well, even though I was sitting at a desk there. Now that I’m working in a classroom, I find that I have more stamina for activities that involve standing, such as instruction. This has also had an unanticipated benefit at conventions. The adjustment period was a bit of a struggle, but not too bad. My research recommended taking it slow, going for just 15 minutes at a time. However, when I was drawing I’d get “in the zone” and quickly forget the physical strain of standing. I’d regret it at the end of the day when my knees and legs ached. However, the soreness was quick to fade, and now I have little trouble working for hours at a time while on my feet. An added bonus is that I find myself dancing as I work. A fun tune comes on the radio and my feet at last have license to boogie! It’s made creating a page even more fun. It is not a magical weight-reduction device or easy trick for a toned body, but I do feel healthier now than I did before the switch. If it’s something you’ve been considering, maybe take a look at my low-cost solution, or do some research of your own to get you up on your feet and out of the chair!

Other options

I know my solution is not the only one! Do you have a low-cost alternative to a standing desk? What have you done to make your work station more ergonomic? Share your solutions here, so that we may all escape our back pain and misery, while still keeping in a cartoonist’s budget!

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Posted in Drawing, Featured News, Helpful Hints and tagged , , .

12 Comments

  1. I messed up my neck by spending six months sitting unhealthily bent over my Cintiq, so now I keep it raised up on top of two VHS tapes, so it’s at face-level for me. I think we have some wood and some nails in the house, so I guess I could build something much taller than a stack of VHS tapes, and draw while standing. I’m not sure if I’m even healthy enough at this point to do that, but I guess I could try! It would only cost me a little time.

    • One part of my research that I forgot to mention is the importance of variety. Standing constantly has a lot of negative side effects, just like constant sitting. So don’t feel like you need to go cold turkey on sitting to improve health. Sometimes just introducing a little variety into your daily routine, such as stretching every now and again, can do a lot of good!

  2. Great ideas here! I may have to revamp our home office.

    Another way to get your body moving while at the desk is an under-the-desk bicycle. It’s low to the ground and you can continue to pedal in a seated position. I know this article was about getting up, but if your goal is to keep in motion while you’re at a desk without standing, this may be your better option. The ones I saw were less than $50, but I’m sure you can find stuff cheaper in the inner-reaches of the internet.

    I’ve also from time to time replaced my desk chair with an exercise ball so that I’m not as sedentary. It’s bouncy… and as we all know, bouncy is fun.

  3. I recently switched my setup around so I sit when I’m at the computer colouring, and stand when I’m at my desk drawing by hand. I have a large double A0 angled drafting desk propped up on two of those ubiquitous Ikea bookshelves, either side. Bonus, because the shelves jut out in to the room, and they’re those nice deep square shelves, I can use both sides of each bookshelf, effectively doubling my shelf space (for smaller, regular shaped books, of which I don’t exactly have a ton of. Oh well.)

  4. (..) um! that’s scary , I knew all this sitting was bad for me but some of this is just eye opening. trouble is I am tall and get back ache if I stand for long amounts of time, its also something I was never any good at (as my old teachers will tell you) when I stand up a lot I seem to loose concentration. what I normally do is go for a walk mid day so I try not to sit here for more than Four hours at a time. however one thing i have done is raised my monitor height ( there is still a use for old encyclopedias after all!) by doing this my screen is now more at eye height and I don’t get as many head aches. but i don’t think a standing desk is for me.

    • As I mentioned to Ewa above, variety is ultimately the most important. Standing constantly also has a lot of issues. So it’s mixing between tasks (sitting, standing, walking, etc) that’s the most beneficial. It sounds like you’re already doing a lot to improve your work station and introduce variety!

  5. It’s always fascinating to see where the trending is occurring and I think that the “standing desk layout” can potentially offer some benefits to many.

    Personally,…I just make it a point to get up every 2 hours and walk or stretch for about 15 minutes. It does wonders and it also helps the eyes. Standing at a desk for me just shifts the potential issues to my knees and still fatigues my eyes….so that won’t work for me.

    • My research indicated that variety is key, so I think walking and stretching is also a great way to improve your health as a creator. I think Disney has something like a 20/20/20 rule — every 20 minutes, stop and look at something 20 feet away and do 20 min of stretches…or something to that effect! I don’t remember the exact rule, but that was the spirit of it!

  6. I think having a foot rest of some sort is key to this kind of set-up. You see it in Dave Kellet’s desk. At least I am guessing that’s the purpose of the bar you see underneath his desk. There is a reason you see a foot rest underneath most bars. It’s so patrons can stand long hours drinking. Of course I would also keep a high chair or stool handy as well. Who needs an excuse to sit down and watch TV or play video games.

  7. After screwing up my neck/shoulder on my first graphic novel, I decided to invest in a good drawing table for my next book — one that slants to a high degree, fits in my San Francisco apt, and looks good with my furniture! I recently bought this one (but in the 24×36 size) http://www.artsupply.com/SMI-Drafting-Tables_c_450.html . Perfect so far. Will let you know how it goes. You can get a standing height one too, but for me the main thing is that it angles to 65% so my neck is straight and my arms are at a comfortable angle. It’s a little over the budget mentioned here, but I decided I’d have this table for life 🙂

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