My Experiment with the Varidesk Standing Desk

I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual at a desk recently. For my day job, I spend most of my day sitting at a computer or hunched over reading. This fall I started a Masters program and in addition to spending about 10 hours a week sitting at a desk in a classroom, I’m now spending what once was free time hunched over a desk in study. After a couple of months, I’ve noticed these extra hours at the desk were starting to catch up with me in some pretty negative ways. So, I set out to try to correct my course before things went too far down the path.

Standing desks seems to be all the rage these days among the tech crowd, and for good reasons. There’s a growing body of research to suggest that sitting all day is one of the worst things you can do for your health. Several friends have bought standing desks or even treadmill desks. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and if a standing desk solution was right for me.

My desk pre-Varidesk

My desk pre-Varidesk

I work in a fairly traditional (read “stuffy”) office environment, so I’m somewhat limited in my options. I have an executive style desk and matching furniture so switching out my desk wasn’t an option. I also regularly meet with clients in my office so I needed something that was conservative in appearance. Finally, I wanted something that would switch from standing to sitting fairly easily. 

Finding a solution that would meet these requirements was no easy task. After some research, and consulting Twitter, I settled on the Varidesk. Varidesk is an adjustable desk riser that sits on top of an existing desk and allows you to switch from a seated to standing position by simply pressing levers on the side of the desk and raising or lowing the work surface. The Varidesk comes fully assembled and (with a little help form a friend) can setup fairly quickly. There are a number of different sizes to accommodate various size workstations. A 30’ “Single” is designed to work with a single computer or monitor while “Pro” and “Pro Plus” configurations are wider for multiple computer or monitor setups.

Since I use a Mac mini at the office with a single 24“ monitor, I selected the $325 ”Single Plus" model workstation which includes a recessed keyboard tray. Overall the Varidesk worked just as advertised, and raising and lowering the desk from the sitting to standing position was easy. I was also impressed by how sturdy the Varidesk was. At times, I found myself leaning on the extended Varidesk, and it did not waiver. Not once was I concerned that my computer or monitor would fall or was in danger.

Varidesk extended

Varidesk extended

In my time with the Varidesk, I found that I liked standing and working for many activities. More mundane tasks like responding to email, web research, and drafting simple letters were no problem. However, when it came to thought intensive-activities or activities that required referencing files, books, or other material I had on my desk or more serious thought, I found myself wanting to return back to my standard desk level. Part of the problem may have been the limited size of the Varidesk allowed me to only raise my computer workstation, and not my entire desk surface. This meant I couldn’t bring supplemental material to standing height with me.

Cable management was at times problematic, and on several occasions when I first started using the Varidesk I would inadvertently unplug my computer or monitor when adjusting it from the sitting to standing position. It took me a few days of experimentation, adjusting, and tying off cables. While I was able to solve the problem of cables becoming detached, that didn’t necessarily solve the problem of cable clutter. The pristine cable-free product photos don’t do a real office justice. The reality is when the desk was fully extended I had a half dozen or more cables that were dangling behind the now extended desk.

Side view of the extended Varidesk

Side view of the extended Varidesk

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Varidesk, and the one that ultimately lead to its return, was its overall size. While the Varidesk’s site provided dimensions, I really didn’t appreciate just how large the workstation was until it was sitting on my desk. To their credit, Varidesk has added additional product photos and dimensions to their site to give potential buyers a better idea of the overall size. While the Varidesk will no doubt fit on most desks and workspaces, when it is fully extended the overall reach of the Varidesk is significant. The Single Plus model extends outwards 41 3/4“ (just over a meter). Even when flat, the Varidesk will lift the work surface of the desk 4 1/2” (11.43 centimeters) which means you may no longer be able to use the space for other activities such as writing or reading.

Varidesk sitting flat on my desk.

Varidesk sitting flat on my desk.

After spending just shy of 30 days with the Varidesk, I learned that I liked the idea of a standing desk, but that this particular model standing desk simply wasn’t for me. I called up Varidesk and they processed my return, no questions asked, paid for the return shipping, and refunded my full purchase price including shipping. (I did save the original shipping package which made things easier.) 

I would be willing to try experimenting with a standing desk solution again. During my time with the Varidesk, I learned that generally, I enjoyed standing and found the more I stood, the more comfortable I was with the idea of standing and working. However, I’ve learned that I was probably unrealistic with my expectations in finding a standing desk solution that did not require me to compromise or adjust my current setup. and I may need to be willing to adjust. This may mean changing my office configuration and swapping out some of my existing furniture to accommodate a true adjustable height desk for my computer workstation to accompany a more formal desk for taking meetings. 

I enjoyed my time with the Varidesk and while it wasn’t the solution for me, I think it’s a fine product for the right circumstances and it has persuaded me to continue to search for the right standing desk solution for my workspace.

This article first appeared in the December, 2014 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/

Sketchnoting Challenge: David Allen on Mac Power Users

Back on episodes 120 and 223 we featured Mike Rhode to talk about Sketchnoting. If you’re interested in practicing your sketch noting skills, Mike has issued a challenge to the Sketchnoting Army, to sketch note a podcast. In this case, they’ve picked one of ours, MPU episode 219 featuring David Allen

If you’re interested in participating, listen to the episode and sketch note the things that stand out to you and submit them to the Sketchnote Army. There are some great prizes.

More information at sketchnotearmy.com

235: Workflows with Stephen Hackett | Mac Power Users

This week on Mac Power Users David and I are joined by Stephen Hackett of 512pixles.net to discuss his previous life as an Apple Genius, how he juggles a day job, Relay.fm and being Editor-in-Chief of the Sweet setup with his family life, his love of old Macs and more.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

234: MPU Live: Control-Space is Wrong | Mac Power Users

Last Saturday was the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for our monthly MPU-Live episode. This month David and I talk about auditing your accounts with guest Bradley Chambers, quitting Family Sharing, follow-up on PDFs, discuss applications for money management, and share tips for managing RSS feeds on the go, sharing an iTunes library, managing photos and videos, preserving two-factor authentication codes, discuss the Evernote Stylus, family journaling options and more.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

One Step Closer to Ala Carte TV?

Today at CES, Dish Networks announced SlingTV, a $20 monthly internet TV service that will be coming to Roku, Amazon Fire TV, iOS and Android in the “coming weeks”.

From cnet’s coverage: 

The $20 Sling TV base package includes ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, TNT, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and the “best of Internet video” with Maker Studios. Add-on packs with additional kids and news programming will be available for $5 each.

[Roger] Lynch [CEO of Sling TV] said the launch channel lineup was set but the lineup would evolve with time and that other channels would be added. No DVR capabilities or local channels would be available to Sling TV subscribers, but they’d be able to access plenty of on-demand content, he added.

While I’m not sure I’m ready to open my wallet to subscribe just yet, I think this is an interesting development for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that networks are willing to make these types of content deals for non-cable TV subscribers. I’ve long said I’d pay a reasonable monthly subscription to access networks like CNN or HGTV on my Apple TV if that subscription allowed me to have access to their live stream and previous shows. Currently I can access some of this content through their iOS apps, but most of it is locked down unless you’re a cable TV subscriber, which I’m not.

This newly announced Sing TV package offers a nice collection networks that has a little something that will appeal to most households. What’s notable is the inclusion of the sports channels. Access to sports coverage has been one of the biggest reasons for keeping a cable or satellite TV package. ESPN and ESPN2 will alleviate that concern for many. 

While Sling TV isn’t perfect, it’s a start. No mention of availability for Apple TV and we’ll have to wait and see if or how the program lineup grows or can be customized. But I’m excited about the possibilities. Ok Apple now it’s your turn…

ScreenCasts Online Monthly Magazine: Technology Resolutions

This month’s issue of ScreenCasts Online Monthly Magazine is now available in Apple’s Newsstand App. In the January issue you’ll find an article from me about Technology Resolutions for 2015 

The monthly magazine is packed with streamable versions of Don’s excellent video tutorials as well as articles, reviews and tips from authors including David SparksAllison SheridanWally Cherwinski and more. The magazine is free for ScreenCasts online Premium Members or available as a separate subscription or you can pickup individual issues. You can download it in the AppStore or find more info at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/