01 April 2015

5 Ways to Inexpensively Create a Standing Computer Station—and Add Years to Your Life

Long before I heard “sitting is the new smoking,” I knew I was killing myself. As a fiction writer, I’d sit for hours, immersed in a story with no sense of time. When I did take breaks (to make a cup of tea or hit the bathroom), I’d stretch and do breath work, but I still had to go to a massage therapist to work out the kinks. But as time went on and the computer became even more of a shackle with the internet, webinars, and research, I found my muscles not as easy to use in dance class and my ability to stretch shortening.

When I started having trouble rising from a sitting position, I knew I had to change my habits, so I looked online where I found a number of great tables that converted to standing, but were too expensive.

The solution came when I started writing in a Barnes & Noble cafe and moved from the short tables to the tall. I found I could stand, on and off, for the five hours I was there. That gave me ideas, and now I stand and work more than I sit. Standing also reminds me to stretch and breath and move. An added benefit is I don't hunch over.

Here are five ways you, too, can create standing stations or find places to write with standing capability.

I often write in cafes as it takes me away from phones, laundry, dog, husband, etc. The first photo is of me standing at one of the B&N tables. The second photo is at Cafe Vero, an old Victorian house, where Sonny the owner put in a shelf along a hallway and included a strip of plugins. The chairs are high, the counter just right for standing.

At B&N
Cafe Vero
Tip: start out standing for a short, comfortable time period and increase as you get used to it.

Everyone has a regular table at home. 

I often attend writers retreats at Oregon Writers Colony’s Colonyhouse. Because I was desperate to stand while working, I first stacked oversized books from their library on the dining table for a pedestal effect, but the books were cumbersome and not sturdy.

Then I remembered my mom’s lap desk we’d stored at the house. This is the easiest conversion as it’s portable, folds up, and goes with me to Colonyhouse. Bed Bath & Beyond carry them for around $12-15. An additional feature of this lap desk is that the top adjusts for a slanted surface, perfect for writing with pen and paper, say for example, when you’re editing hard copy or writing in a journal. Also works when reading a magazine or book.

Tip: to make standing easier on your feet and back, buy a gel pad for the floor. You can find these in the kitchen section of many stores as they are usually used on tile floors in front of a sink or food prep area. Mine is a GelPro.

I fortunately have a shelf in my writing room that’s perfect for standing and gives me a beautiful view out the window of our front yard. I use this when I’m working on my laptop and don’t need two monitors. Almost any shelf can be used like this if one is available. 

A shelf under a window can easily be constructed out of shelf brackets and a board. At your neighborhood home improvement store, they may even have something already available. Look for, say for example, a shelf that normally holds potted plants. Or ask for help on something that could easily be anchored to the wall.

If you’re working at a regular computer table, one that has a back shelf for an external monitor and a pull out extension for a keyboard, you’re in luck. This type of computer table is usually  inexpensive to buy or can be found at second hand stores like St. Vincent dePaul. I often need to use both my laptop and an external monitor when creating a blog, doing research on my novel, or watching a webinar while taking notes.

When I'm sitting

When I'm standing

I was at a loss, at first, as to how to convert this area for standing. But then I thought that, if I had a way to raise my laptop on the pullout shelf, I could stand. Unfortunately, the lap desk was too big for the keyboard-size pullout, and piling books would be too heavy, BUT if I had a smaller version of the lap desk that would fit the pullout shelf, I could make it work.

With my husband’s help, I drew up dimensions for what looks like a little footstool, and my husband made it in his shop. It’s even a bit fancier than what I’d asked for, but if you have a handyman or woman around who can cut out plain shapes and screw them together, you can do this, too.

As you can see in the photo, I use my laptop on the pullout with the mini-table, and I change the external monitor’s slant so it slants upward. Now I can see both monitors while standing, although I have to use my laptop keyboard instead of the ergonomic.

Tip: To make up for not being able to use my ergonomic keyboard, I found a great accessory that helps with my hand position and keeps my laptop from overheating. Made by Road Tools, the Podium CoolPad goes with me everywhere. It adjusts in height and swivels, letting you use it slanted up or down. At the B&N tables, which are high, I use it slanted down so I don’t crimp my hands.

Search websites for "standing computer stations." Im not familiar with this site, BizChair, but they offer this inexpensive laptop table thats portable and moves. My only concern would be the rollers causing it to move, something that I wouldnt want, but might be OK if the rollers locked or the table was on carpet.

If you like your standing station solid and made of wood, podiums, like the type used in classes or for presentations or even churches, are often the right height for a laptop. They also usually have a nook for storing small things, something I need when working as I usually need pen and paper and my cellphone. (I use my cellphone for a timer as it keeps me aware of how long Ive been writing and standing.) If you frequent second hand shops, ask the owner to keep an eye out for a podium or computer desk and to call you if one comes in.

Drafting tables or graphic design tables, although large, can be adjusted to a standing height. I don't think theyre as popular as they used to be because most drafting and design are done on computers, so its possible there are a number of them out there no longer in use. Maybe a school or college would be worth checking out?

Dont forget your friends and family. Let them know what you're looking for, either via Facebook or email. Check sites like Craigslist. If you have a friend who works in wood, maybe a swap is in order.
A panorama of my writing room

Tip:  I bought my Mac ergonomic split keyboard from the folks at The Human Solution and their service is beyond compare. They sell amazing desks and chairs, too. Even for my simple questions about a keyboard, they responded quickly and checked on me after they responded. Someday, when my ship comes in, Ill buy a set-up from them.

Keep moving! I love to dance and my body loves me for it. I keep a few YouTube videos for taking a break. Since Im already standing, its easy to play one and move for ten minutes. My feet always say thank you!

I Love Zumba: One of my Favorite YouTube Channels

If you
re wondering what all the fuss is about sitting, this article explains the research behind the perils of sitting for long stretches of time.

7 Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You

Sitting will kill you isn't exactly a happy message. But just as with the days when we used to smoke, ignorance is not bliss. So I leave you with this.

Keep dancing, keep writing!

Whats next on Gobsmacked? A peek at my writing life and a giveaway, with an emphasis on Paris.


Julia Whitmore said... [Reply to comment]

It's a battle every day: wear myself exercising first or writing first? Plus, my writing posture is TERRIBLE. Thanks for the tips and the nudge.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

I can't imagine you having terrible writing posture! But I know what you mean. My body mechanic, as she refers to herself, taught me a great little trick that keeps me upright and not slouched over when I'm writing.
Hang something from the ceiling that touches your scalp line when you start to curve forward. It will bounce you to a straight back.
Thanks for commenting, Julie!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


FANTASTIC article Valerie! I love the real - and applicable - insight!
Lois Jean Bousquet

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


How useful! My son in San Francisco was saying when he visited that more people stand than sit at his office. (creative computer types)

I’m impressed that you stay focused for five hours at a stretch. I was like that years ago with the first draft of “the novel” (still to go through yet another revision.)
I’d like to see an article on that.

What kind of dance do you do?

Samantha Waltz

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Right now I'm taking a NIA class that is a combo of jazz, kickboxing, and yoga. I also do zumba, a rigorous, thigh hardening dance that I have to modify.
I highly recommend NIA as it has a little of everything, but of course, depends on the instructor. I just happen to have one who loves jazz steps. Great for balance, too.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


Hey Val! I loved your blog!
I’ve been standing to write for several years now (although at present I’m sitting since I just got off the treadmill). I got a small round ‘bistro table’ which is the perfect height. I keep it in the kitchen where it’s handy for folks to sit at if we’re visiting or having a glass of wine. I really like my stand-up ‘desk’.

My daughter works for the State of Oregon Child-Protective Services and they gave her a choice of desks when she started: sit down or stand up. She chose stand up. I think it’s interesting that the stodgy old State gave her that option.

Hope to see you around one of these days.
Happy Writing!
Martha Miller

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks so much, Martha! The bistro table is a fantastic idea! Glad to hear that the stodgy ol' State is "standing" up for good health.
Yes, we need to get together. It's been too long.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


Dear Val,
Thank you for this inspiring article! I love all of your ideas and especially love seeing your (wild) writing room.

Wishing you a peaceful and inspiring spring holiday, whatever flavor you take.

Hugs to you and your crew,
Sabena Stark

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks so much, Sabena! Yes, my writing room is WILD and a collage-in- progress. I love stimulation and everywhere I look, I find it.
Hugs to you and your crew, too!

Jobsite Table Saw said... [Reply to comment]

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