Making my workspace more ergonomic with a standing desk

I spend a lot of time at my desk. Many of us do these days, with software eating the world and all. That’s why I’ve put some effort (and money) into creating a more ergonomic workspace. I’ve focused on three main areas for this: the keyboard and mouse, the chair, and the desk itself. Fortunately it wasn’t pain or discomfort that prompted these changes and hopefully by making them proactively I’ll remain pain and discomfort free!

Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk

Keyboard & Mouse

I started with the keyboard and mouse, which I have written about previously. I went with the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, which you can get on Amazon for just over $100. An ergonomic keyboard definitely takes some getting used to, but I would never go back now. I do end up typing quite a bit on my Surface Pro keyboard when I’m not at home, but after a while I definitely find myself missing the Sculpt Keyboard. If I’m going to do a serious amount of typing, such as when I’m writing a blog post, I try to make sure I’m using it. It may not be the most ergonomic keyboard you can get, but it does tick a lot of the boxes for an ergonomic setup like the palm rest, split design, and natural arc. The mouse too has the thumb scoop and height to ensure your wrist is in a more comfortable position. Overall I’ve been very happy with this setup.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop

Chair

The next thing I decided to improve was my chair. For years I had been using a pretty basic office chair from Staples. It worked fine and did have a curved back which offered some support but after years of abuse it was starting to show its age. It was time to replace it anyway, so getting a more ergonomic one just made sense.

I read quite a bit about office chairs (or “task chairs”) and the different factors you should look for. I very quickly realized that if I wanted to, I could spend thousands of dollars on a chair! I decided my budget was going to be quite a bit less than that, hopefully below $500. I read a lot of reviews, but this one from The Wirecutter had a big impact on my decision. Their recommendation was the Steelcase Leap, but at around $1000 it was a bit too rich for me. Fortunately they also had a strong recommendation for a less expensive chair: the Ikea Markus Swivel chair which you can get for about $229. Here’s what they wrote:

“I don’t think the Markus would be a bad choice for someone who would never consider paying $800 for a chair, no way no how. It definitely never felt like my chair the way the Leap or the Embody did, in large part due to that limited adjustability. And I strongly believe that most people would find the Leap or the Embody far more comfortable than the Markus, in an immediate sense and over time. But in terms of the ergonomic criteria mentioned by the experts above, the Markus will be sound for most, except perhaps the tallest users.”

I’m definitely not the tallest person so that didn’t worry me. And it does have less adjustability than other, more expensive chairs; you can’t adjust the lumbar support, the head rest, or the depth of the seat pan. But other than that, it more than meets my criteria for an ergonomic chair. I’ve been extremely happy with it! I particularly like the mesh back and how thin it is. I didn’t think I’d like the headrest, but after months of use I’m sold.

Ikea MARKUS Swivel Chair

Of course, sitting properly and getting the benefits of a well-designed chair is easier said than done. I know it’s important to sit as far back in the seat as possible, so that my lower back is against the lumbar support. But even with the ability to recline, I found myself slouching too often. So I added a footrest and that made a huge difference. Now when I’m sitting at the desk, I make sure my feet are up on the footrest and it helps me ensure I’ve got the correct posture. It’s a simple change, but it made a big difference.

Standing Desk

You know what they say: sitting is the new smoking. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that sitting too much is bad, of course. Getting up and walking around has always made me feel better. I tend to pace when I’m on a call and I often try to go for a walk after sitting for a while. It helps to both clear my head and to keep my energy up.

Still, I have long wanted a standing desk. I’ve seen them in other offices and was always immediately jealous. I tried to approximate a standing desk on more than one occasion, using the counter, boxes on a table, whatever. But I wanted the real thing. While I again did a bunch of research on standing desks, I was pretty set on getting the Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk from the moment it was announced. Not only was it electronically adjustable from 22″ to 48″ at the press of a button, it was less than $1000! Just like a good chair, standing desks can cost multiple thousands of dollars. For my first one, I wasn’t prepared to spend that much.

The only problem is that Ikea seems to have been plagued by supply issues. As I write this, the desk I bought isn’t even listed on Ikea Canada’s website anymore (the normal one, not the corner or five-sided which both still appear). For months it appeared but showed no inventory. Eventually I decided to just ask in the store itself and discovered that while the tabletops are available in self-serve, the motorized underframe is only available from the back warehouse. I was able to pay for it at customer service and then just had to wait for a few minutes while it was brought out to me. The frame cost $500 and the tabletop was another $90. That’s an amount I was comfortable spending for my first standing desk!

Mack at the Standing Desk

I’ve had it for about a month now and I love it. And yes, I really do switch between standing and sitting quite a bit.

I had read a few comments online that suggested it was a little wobbly, and while it is indeed less stable than my previous desk, it’s far from an issue. I have it setup right on the carpet and I barely notice it, on a more solid surface I’m sure it would be even less noticeable. The desk is a bit bigger than my previous one, but it feels like it takes up less room because of the open sides.

While the desk itself has a pretty smart design to hide its own cables underneath, I didn’t think about the impact of having a height adjustable desk on my other cords. With my previous desk, I had them zip-tied to try to keep things tidy, but with the standing desk they need to have enough give to allow the desk to move up and down. I still need to think of a better solution to make my setup look cleaner, but it’s fine for now.

I can see how it would be handy to have presets, which is a feature some of the more expensive standing desks offer. But on the other hand it’s great to be able to move the desk up or down ever so slightly too. I can generally adjust the height into my “sitting” and “standing” heights using landmarks (the lightswitch on the wall, the armrests on the chair, etc.). It’s pretty impressive to me how quick moving the desk up and down is.

Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk

I did make two additional changes to try to improve the ergonomics of my standing desk. The first was to add risers to lift the monitors up a bit higher (unfortunately mine are not height adjustable on their own and I’m not ready to replace them yet). Without the risers, I was looking down at the screens too much (don’t let the angle of the photo above fool you). I may raise them higher still, I’m still experimenting with that.

The second was to get an anti-fatigue mat. I went with the Imprint CumulusPro Commercial Grade which was a bit more expensive but was totally worth it. It’s surprising how much of a difference it makes when you’re standing for any length of time! I do of course have to move the mat when I want to switch into sitting mode, but this only takes a few seconds and as a bonus I move it into the kitchen where we’ve also enjoyed using it.

I find myself standing most in the early part of the day which also happens to be when I’m generally on Skype. It’s especially handy now that we have started using video at work so much more. Without the standing desk, I couldn’t pace as I like to do when I need to be on video. Having a standing desk means I can still move around and remain in frame.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my standing desk is how much Sharon has used it! It’s been weeks since she last used her laptop on the dining room table (her preferred desk). Fortunately the Bekant is large enough at 63″ x 31.5″ that we can both fit comfortably side-by-side with plenty of room to spare.

Overall I’m really happy with my setup right now. I have better posture and I can easily switch between sitting or standing.

Some of my favorite gadgets as of March 2014

It’s probably no surprise to you that I love gadgets. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a new shiny toy. Some of the gadgets I buy turn out to be underwhelming or less useful than I had hoped, but some quickly become indispensable. This is highly subjective of course, but it seems like more and more of the gadgets I have bought recently are good quality, very useful, and attractive. Am I getting better at picking them, or has the bar just generally been raised?

Here are a few of my current favorites!

Doxie One

I bought a Doxie One back in November 2012 when I decided I was going to get serious about going paperless. That quest is ongoing, but the Doxie has definitely made a difference! I use it to scan invoices, receipts, business cards, and even handouts from all the different media events I go to. Unlike old school scanners that need to be connected to your computer and have terrible software, the Doxie scans things to an SD card that you can then plug into the computer later. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes when you can separate those two tasks – scanning feels like less of a chore with the Doxie. The app it comes with is great too, letting you save scans as PDF, images, and other formats straight into OneNote, Dropbox, or wherever you like. Love it!

Logitech Wireless Headset H800

I spend a lot of time on calls for work, via Lync or Skype. I have lost count of the number of USB headsets I’ve had over the years. After the cable on my last one eventually deteriorated, I decided to go wireless. I settled on the Logitech Wireless Headset H800 and could not be happier. It’s sleek and light, produces great quality sound, and supports both a tiny USB dongle and bluetooth, which means I can use it with both my desktop and my mobile devices. The headset charges using a micro USB cable which is handy (because pretty much every other device uses the same cable). Battery life is not amazing, but is more than adequate.

Jabra SPEAK 410

I first used a Jabra SPEAK when I was hosting some meetings at Startup Edmonton. I loved it so much, I decided to go and buy one! When I’m with colleagues or simply don’t want to wear my headset, I’ll use the Jabra. It is absolutely fantastic. It’s small and highly portable, produces great sound, and I love the controls. Answer, hangup, mute, volume – all seamlessly work with Lync and Skype. No software necessary either, just plug it in and away you go!

Bose SoundLink Mini

Sharon and I wanted a small speaker for our condo so after looking around at various options, I eventually decided on the Bose SoundLink Mini. It’s a bluetooth speaker and is meant to be portable (though we just leave it on the dock all the time). It produces fantastic sound, so good that I’m now looking to replace my crappy desktop speakers because they sound so bad in comparison. I can pair my Surface and Sharon has paired her phone with the speaker, so either one of us can play music easily. It’s perfect for when we’re cooking or have guests over or just want to have some background tunes.

Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Wireless Keyboard K810

When I bought my Surface Pro, I decided to get the touch cover (the flat one without physical keys). It works great when I’m on the go, but at home I wanted a keyboard with actual keys to use. I decided on the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810. It’s pretty small and connects via bluetooth with the ability to switch between thee devices just by pressing one button. It’s also illuminated, and with a hand proximity sensor, it turns off the backlight to save power when your hands are not near it. Speaking of power, I don’t think I have ever had to charge it. Granted I don’t use it all the time, but still, the battery life is impressive.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop

Last but not least is the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the ergonomic keyboard and mouse, but this is absolutely the best combo I have ever owned. The mouse is surprisingly comfortable and uses real batteries (I’ve given up on so many mice because the rechargeable batteries all suck). The keyboard is the star though. It’s striking design looks great on my desk and it’s incredibly comfortable. You can see where my hands have rubbed against the cushioned palm rest, but still, it has held up well. My favorite part are the keys – they are more like laptop keys than traditional desktop keyboard keys, with less “throw”. I also love that it comes with a separate number pad, which I never use, meaning it doesn’t clutter up my desk.

I use The Wirecutter quite a bit for reviews, so check it out if you haven’t come across it already. I’m always looking for new gadgets, so who knows what I’ll be using in a year or two. Things are changing so quickly and for the better!

REVIEW: Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution

Usually I’m not in the city on boxing day, so I don’t have much experience with finding post-Xmas deals. I did venture out this year however, and managed to snag a fairly good deal on a new mouse and keyboard at Best Buy. Listed at $199.99 CDN, I picked up the Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution for just $99.

Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution

I had been using a plain old Dell USB mouse and keyboard since my last cordless Logitech mouse died about a year ago. It used two rechargeable AA batteries, but would consistently kill them with just a couple hours of use. The Dell mouse worked fine, but it’s most advanced feature was a scroll wheel. The Dell keyboard also worked well, and had some handy media controls on top, including a volume dial. Other than that however, I found it incredibly loud and the keys sometimes stuck. I knew it was time for a new mouse and keyboard, but it wasn’t a high enough priority for me to go searching.

I’m really glad I found the deal and picked up my new mouse and keyboard. The MX Revolution mouse has both a tilt scroll wheel and a thumb wheel (for more precise scrolling), back and forward buttons, and a search button. Best of all, it comes with built-in batteries and a charging stand so that I never have to change batteries. The keyboard includes the standard layout, plus media controls on the left and an integrated LCD screen on the top that can display the date and time, temperature, media information, and more. Both devices use Bluetooth.

The mouse feels very comfortable, and the soft built-in palm rest on the keyboard is a nice touch. The keys are incredibly quiet compared to my old keyboard, and feel very smooth. So far the battery life on the mouse has been great (haven’t had to charge it yet). The scroll wheel took a bit of getting used to (it turns into a hyper scroll wheel when you have a long document) but now I really like it!

I’ll admit that the LCD screen isn’t incredibly useful, but it is pretty darn cool. Based on the first week of use, I think I’m definitely going to like this mouse and keyboard.