Elevating my Pomodoro Practices: A StandDesk Review

I’ve always found it a bit unfortunate that my best productivity results were always linked to being seated at my office desk. And for good reasons: using a pair of large, high definition monitors affords me a great view of different documents, media, and diagrams without having to toggle between items. The experience blows away the smaller and more portable format of a laptop, especially when creating content for client deliverables, Pluralsight courses, or images for this blog.

I’ve experimented with a raised desk, but found standing all day fatiguing and uncomfortable. Setting up dual workstations, or moving around a laptop, requires spending more time setting things up and synchronizing content between terminals than actually working on content.

After reading a motorized standing desk review from Brent Ozar I figured it was time to follow suit. The concern was over price – $3500 is a helluva lot of cash to drop on a desk that goes up and down. Fortunately, I saw this tweet from Derek Seaman:

I did some more research and saw that StandDesk was a funded Kickstarter project owned by Steven Yu, who was pretty frustrated with the high cost of motorized standing desks or “sit-to-stand” desks. His model costs only $399 US plus options to purchase or provide your own table top, power strip, mat, crossbar, cable management tray, and more. It’s a lot like ordering a Tesla vehicle; you get to pick all of the options.

Derek had some nice comments about the desk after it arrived. Convinced, I decided to snag one with a black frame with black laminate top and splurged for the deluxe memory controller, which allows four height presets. After a week, the desk arrived!

standdesk-box

StandDesk Construction, Setup, and Gadgets

Building the desk is pretty straight forward if you follow the detailed instructions. All of the screws, bolts, washers, and spring washers come in separate bags that are marked with their destination: tabletop, frame, and spares. There’s an included hex tool for fastening all of the bolts into the frame, or, pop in a hex bit into your power tool – just be careful not to over-tighten.

All of the parts have a high quality finish to them with rounded corners to avoid cut hands. Below is a shot of all the bolts that are fastened to the leg assembly – it’s not going anywhere!

standdesk-leg

The foot assembly also includes height-adjustable rotation gears to stabilize the front-to-back motion of the desk, which was very helpful for the carpeted home office floor. I’m also using a floor mat to protect the carpet from chair wheel damage at sitting height, and push the chair back when I’m transitioning to standing height.

standdesk-foot

The deluxe controller was worth the investment. The buttons are all variable pressure programmed, meaning the up and down arrows will adjust the height by 1/10th of an inch with a single press, or continuously adjust the height by about 0.7 inches per second if you hold the button for two seconds. The memory buttons are similar in design: push to recall the height setting, or hold the button down for five seconds to store a new height value. I’m using button 1 for my sitting position and button 4 for my standing position, which gives me 2 and 3 for anything I might need in the future.

standdesk-memory-unit

The Road Thus Far

I’ve been using the new desk for a few weeks and have written down my initial impressions:

  1. The motors are quiet but can be heard in the next room over. It takes perhaps 25 seconds for the desk to fully transition from sitting to standing based on my presets.
  2. I use an Ergotron side-by-side monitor arm (specifically this LX model), causing the desk to get a little rocky when I shift my weight against the keyboard. In hindsight, I should have purchased the crossbar upgrade for my desk after determining the weight of my monitors. If you plan to do a dual monitor setup, get the crossbar.
  3. Because gravity compresses the discs in a human spine, I need to raise the desk higher in the morning and lower it in the evening.
  4. An anti-fatigue mat is absolutely essential for long duration standing. I purchased an Octagonal mat from SmartCells, using rubber “cells” that are pictured below.
smartcells-mat

Cable Management

Cable management is challenging. As you can see in the photo below, it’s important to measure the lengths of mouse, keyboard, monitor, speaker, and power cables to ensure they reach when the desk moves. The picture below was taken prior to using any cable management. It caused my eye to twitch.

Monitors: Samsung on the left, AOC on the right.

standdesk-overview

My first mission is to set the desk to the maximum height and cable up the electronics knowing the furthest distance they need to reach. The rest I have bundled up under the desk using cable management items (see the end of this post for part details). Below is the StandDesk power cable with a Velcro wrap and Command Cord Bundler.

standdesk-power-cable

The existing power strip is strapped to the StandDesk frame with zip ties. Cheap, hidden, and simple.

standdesk-power-strip

My desktop’s network cable is replaced with a Linksys Dual-Band AC1200 Wireless USB 3.0 Adapter (WUSB6300). It connects to my Linksys AC3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi Router at 867 Mbps; just shy of a gigabit.

standdesk-wireless

I can now raise the desk to a height of about 45″ without any cable snags.

Incorporating a Sit-to-Stand Desk with Pomodoro

Ever since Matthew Brender, co-host of the must-listen Geek Whisperers podcast, told me about the Pomodoro Technique for time management, I’ve been a fan. I use a web-based timer called Tomato Timer. The idea is to break up your day into smaller, 25 minute chunks of focused time. During these small “sprints” of activity, I disable distractions (phone, email, social media, etc.) and usually listen to music while working on a task. Tasks are simple – such as “write content for this blog post” (which I’m doing right now) or “submit my expenses for work.” When the timer hits 25 minutes, I disengage from the task and take a 5 minute break.

tomato-timer

In the past, this meant getting up and walking around for a bit, or if I was feeling particularly energetic, dragging out the laptop to go work in another room of the house for a period of time. With the StandDesk, I now use it as a time to toggle the desk from sit-to-stand or back again. During the height adjustment period, I’ll often refill my water glass or just stretch a bit. I find that this extra bit of physical activity is highly beneficial for mental health: I don’t feel like I’m stuck in my office all day in one single position. And of course for physical health, since I’m constantly moving, adjusting, stretching, and not just plopped in a chair.

I also get a rather nice view of the outside window and of my home lab. :)

standdesk-logo

Thoughts and Order Links

I’m certainly not a doctor of any sort, so I have no weight to suggest buying a sit-to-stand desk for any medical reasons. The hype around standing desks deserves merit and I enjoy working at home now that I can alter my productivity perspective. My sore back pain and spine disc popping issues have gone away, which is worth the price of admission of a standing desk. But again – these are just my personal results. Don’t sue me. :)

If you want to construct a similar desk, here’s a bill of materials: