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Writers Talk About Writing

Why Writers Should Take a Stand Against Sitting

Writing at a standing desk is a principle that just kind of crept up on me.

You see, I have a bad back. Second, I love to walk. If ever there were a person ill designed for sitting all day at a desk, it would be me.

I thought longingly about a treadmill desk for several years and even managed to acquire a treadmill for free from some neighbors. But the darn thing is noisy — too noisy when I start work at 6 am. It sits on the floor above the bedrooms of my late-sleeping college-aged children.

For a while, I created a standing workstation by balancing my laptop on a big pile of books. It was awkward, though. I always feared it would fall over and kill my laptop — if not me — along the way.

Finally, last year, I went out and bought a standing desk. The thing — a model by Richelieu — is a marvel. The entire desk (the top is 43 x 24 inches) rises up and down — quietly — at the press of a button. It's large enough to hold my desktop computer, my scanner, my label printer, my phone and my clipboard.  In fact, the owner's manual tells me it will support as much as 350 pounds.

But here's what I really like. I can pre-program the heights — up to four of them. In fact, I only use two: sitting and standing. I've set it up so that I can position my arms at a precise 90-degree angle for typing. I move from sitting to standing with one button press and several blinks of an eye. Easy peasy.

Promoters of standing desks like to hint that "sitting is the new smoking," exposing us to higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. I'm not entirely convinced the risks are as severe as some people suggest. Especially not, if you're the kind of person who regularly moves around for interviews, errands and other reasons during the day.

And you should know there are also some downsides to standing. Sore legs and feet. (Even if you have an anti-fatigue mat, as I do.) Varicose veins. Increased hardening of the arteries. Talk to any grocery store clerks and you'll find that most of them don't like having to stand all day.

Me? I find I can stand for about 30 minutes max before I tire of it. But that's one of the best things about my new desk: I can easily toggle back and forth between sitting and standing. I work in pomodoros (25 minutes of focused activity) with a noisy timer tick-tocking in the background. Now, the act of standing up or sitting down punctuates each pomo.

I bought the desk for my back but my biggest profit has been psychological. Here are three benefits I've discovered:

  1. The standing desk prompts me to be more mindful of my time. My husband calls me the "queen of email" and, it's true, I spend a terrific amount of time each day processing these messages. In the past, I usually didn't start my pomo clock ticking until I was doing what I defined as work. Now, because I don't want to stand longer than necessary, I have the clock going all the time. I've discovered I can easily spend 15 minutes on a single email.  Add together enough of those 15-minute increments and I could have finished another book by now!
     
  2. Toggling between standing and sitting reminds me of the advantages of moving between different projects. Are you the kind of person who likes to finish one thing before you start another? I used to be like that but, over the years, have trained myself to work on a whole bunch of projects at once — albeit, one at a time. What I mean by this is that I'll devote 25 minutes to a project for client A (not finishing it). Then, I move to 25 minutes for client B (not finishing). Then I do 25 minutes for client C (not finishing). At the end, I'll go back through the whole series again. I've identified at least three benefits to this approach. First, it decreases my boredom. Second, it reduces the number of times I have to face a blank page (because, usually, I'm working on projects I've already started.) Finally, it eliminates fear. Have you ever procrastinated on a big project because it seemed overwhelming to you? Working on a bunch of projects at once helps blow that fear right out of the water.
     
  3. Standing has improved my attitude. In a piece on Lifehacker, a blogger named Ben argues that standing has made him more confident. He attributes this to the "power pose" stance promoted by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy. I'm a big believer in Cuddy's thesis and I know standing makes me feel smarter, more "in charge" and more determined.

My standing desk wasn't inexpensive but if you're interested in trying the idea, I suggest you try it out by balancing your computer on books or boxes. Don't stand for more than 30 minutes at a time, to start. Invest in an anti-fatigue mat as well. And join me in taking a stand.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday May 17th 2016, 5:46 PM
Comment by: Craig J.
I appreciate your practical and readable advice on the writing life because I'm busy (no time for fripperies like writing!), unpaid (writing is a very speculative investment until you make real money, and hard to justify) and old (the clock is ticking down, and not just the timer I use thanks to you), and because I REALLY enjoy getting the advantage of someone else's seconds/minutes/hours/days/years to figure out how best to assemble the nuts and bolts of life and avoid needless pain--thank you.
Your article today is just one more push among many toward a standing desk (something that seems to make a whole lot of sense for an old guy with a bad back) and hopefully the thing that will make me get off dead center and git'er done. I also relate to the correspondence time trap; I try to write coherent and lively notes whenever dashing off a line, ever mindful of Montaigne(?) ending a note with something to the effect of "I'm sorry this letter is so long, I'd have made it shorter if I'd had more time." If I use the timer on my correspondence it will hopefully decrease the time spent on the project, which after all isn't supposed to be great literature.
Your stuff is well worth the time spent, in terms of both practicality and entertainment, and doesn't get bogged down in mindless politicking. Again, thank you, and may God bless you and yours.

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