I've Had No Attention Span Lately, So I've Been Writing While Standing Up, And I Like It -- Mostly

I'm not doing this for physical fitness, I'm doing this because my brain is STUCK.
Publish date:
May 27, 2014
creativity, working, standing desk

I'm writing this post while standing up. I'm not loving it, but I admit it has its perks. I've committed to writing this way for the week as an attempt at combatting the most excellent writer's block I've been experiencing, and I'm hoping for the clouds to clear.

The idea snuck into my brain a couple weeks ago. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking -- just Google "writing standing up" and you're treated to a slew of results about great writers who wrote while standing. Hemingway, Nabokov, Lewis Carroll -- they all wrote on their feet. That guy A.J. Jacobs, who writes about kooky experiments he does to himself like "The Year of Living Biblically," actually made a treadmill desk and walked like a billion miles or something while writing his book about physical fitness.

But I'm not doing this for physical fitness, I'm doing this because my brain is STUCK. Emails, articles, the third thing to add to a list as an example in an article -- recently when sitting, all I do is stare at my screen and wonder if I can work while binge watching the latest season of "SVU," which I'm unforgivably behind on. I've had the attention span of a petulant goldfish lately.

It's not so much that I don't want to work or write the words, because when I finally get into a groove it's like sweet, sweet cheese on my macaroni. It's more that this loopy low-grade anxiety has been my "dark passenger" (I've been rewatching "Dexter," too) lately, and it's egging me toward more instant gratification. Gratification that, YES, I can watch all of television in one afternoon. Experience points unlocked!

OK, I've been lazy.

I'll admit I've never exactly had the healthiest work habits, but usually I have the discipline to power through my attention-stealing gremlins. However, recently the gremlins have been winning and I've essentially been tricking myself into thinking, "That's just how I do things."

I leave my Internet up, 10 or so tabs humming in my browser window and crying for my attention. When I get a new message on Twitter or Facebook, the dulcet tone of "bloop" is the highlight of the past 15 minutes, and I convince myself that I NEED to look at whatever it is because it might "inspire me."

It's usually a cat video.

I keep "ambient noise" (TV, podcasts) on, I pet my cats, I pick at my fingers and my face, I follow every other whim around the web, I decide to make yet another cup of tea, I look for ingrown hairs, I take a SHOWER -- all in the name of "it's my process." Well, that's BS. It's not my working process, it's my process of procrastination. So I needed to change things up.

My friend Tommy was my inspiration for this endeavor. Tommy is one of those disgusting human beings who is effortlessly successful at everything. He is a wunderkind with a fancy PR job that he is stupidly good at, he is handsome, he is charming, he is focused, and he is relaxed. He plays the banjo.

Tommy got a standing desk. Tommy said it made him even more focused, more productive. Tommy makes more money than I understand.

So I decided to try it. I don't have the cash to buy a spiffy ergonomically designed standing desk, but I do have a bookshelf that is covered in cat hair, and a feather duster.

So I got to work.

My bookshelf is actually perfect for typing. My hands fall at just below boob height, and I don't feel like I'm craning my neck. It's set up right underneath my living room window, so not only do I get a breeze in the Honolulu humidity, but if I gaze off into the distance I can see about one inch of rainforest-covered mountain over the neighboring apartment building.

But am I more productive?

Begrudgingly so.

I still have a few tabs open in my browser waiting to "bloop" and tear away my attention, but something about standing makes me more able to ignore them. It just might be the fact that I'm extra focused on finishing whatever I'm working on so I can sit on my ass, but whatever it is, yeah, I'm more focused.

From what I've read, standing while working makes you more alert, makes the blood flow better, keeps your body in a more natural position than the hunched, organ-smooshing posture most of us assume while sitting at a desk. Apparently there are "dangers" of inactivity associated with sitting for long periods of time, including chronic muscle tightness, poor alignment, pinched nerves, AND DEATH.

All right, maybe not quite, but if standing keep the blood flowing better thus lowering my risk of developing a blood clot (one of the many ways I'm convinced I'm going to die), I'll try it.

Plus the normal twitchiness that I have while sitting -- changing the cross of my legs, tucking one leg under my butt, then the other, tapping my foot in that infuriating unconscious way -- is pretty much impossible while standing. Yes, at first I found myself sort of dancing in place, but with now four days of practice behind me, I've found my sweet spot.

When you think about it, it's actually a while lot of energy not being wasted, sort of being funneled into the task at hand.

Some stray observations:

  • I'm a lot more aware of my posture. Unlike sitting in a chair or on my couch where I can sort allow everything to sag and spread, slouching while standing and working is pretty uncomfortable. Standing straight also keeps my energy up.
  • My whole body is trained on my computer, everything is pointed toward my task. Twisting, turning, contorting my body away from my computer just doesn't work while standing.
  • If I need to move or fidget for a sec, it's less of a production. I don't have to shove aside my computer or chair, then get situated again once I'm ready to get back to work. I just fall back into place, and here I am typing.
  • Maybe it's just the power of suggestion (I'll take it), but I really do feel like my brain is working more efficiently, getting more blood, staying sharper. Productivity feels easier.
  • At first my back hurt, but after correcting my posture, I've actually felt less achy at the end of the day. No, I don't stand all day, I give myself breaks. But my back and shoulders definitely feel less crunched up by the time I fall into bed. I've even figured out how to crack my back simply by sucking in my gut and standing up as straight as I possibly can. BONUS SKILL.
  • It's nice to feel like I'm using both my brain AND my body during the day. I've danced, stretched, and run around in circles most of my life, so this might be a positive way for my mind to collaborate with my body a little more efficiently.
  • Writing while standing is one thing; watching TV while standing just feels unfair. The siren's song of Netflix is significantly softer. I tried it -- positioning my iPad on the book shelf next to my computer to watch a story while I work -- and it's wholly unsatisfying.


I do feel more tired after working on something for an hour or so. While I'm working I feel more awake, but after I'm a little more drained. I have spurts of productivity that feel more effortless than they usually do, then I want to take a nap. I don't, because I don't nap (I'm an all or nothing kind of gal and naps feel like a tease to me), but I've been tempted a lot more recently.

And do NOT lock your knees, especially you hyper-extended people. I did that on day one when I was riding the wave of brain juices, and got myself all lightheaded.

I'm not sure if standing while working is for everyone. I'm not even sure if it's something I can sustain. Because I work from home most days now, I can go barefoot or even wear comfy shoes if I choose. I can lie on the floor and moan when I need a break, or I can succumb to THE DANCE. If you're around humans, these break time activities may not be an option. If I couldn't let it all hang out between standing sessions, this experiment might not be so successful.

Also, my chronic aches and pains are currently under control, but if you have some physical issues, maybe this ain't for you.

But I only drifted off three times while writing this post, so I think I'll keep this "standing thing" in my arsenal for now.

Do any of you work at a stand up desk? Have you ever? Did it work for you? What was/is your experience?