Most of us would like to be more efficient in our work. Clearer in our thinking. What if something as simple as the act of standing while working could help? What do we know about the effects that standing desks have on clarity, focus, and productivity for workers and students? Researchers have found various ways that a height adjustable desk can help reduce mental fatigue as well as physical, and can help bring more focus and productivity to our work days.
Moving & Standing Can Improve Focus
When we stand to work, we shift our weight and burn calories. The energy is similar to the mental effects of a workout, which can improve focus for many people. Standing to work provides a brief energy boost that activates our focus.
One study conducted by the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M University looked at how standing desks can help students focus in the classroom. The researchers found that first-year high school students who used standing desks showed improvements in focus, executive function, and memory. The study’s authors suggested that standing desks boost brain activity by increasing blood flow, similar to the way exercise does.
Another theory is that standing and moving activate different parts of the brain than sitting does, and this increased activity in turn may help with focus and problem-solving. Regardless of the reason, standing occasionally, seems to help increase focus.
Fidgeting Helps Focus
Even when absorbed in an activity, no one is able to focus 100% of their attention and working memory on a single task. We always have a bit of “floating attention” that keeps us attuned to our surroundings. People often work on small automatic tasks like knitting or doodling while focusing their full concentration elsewhere. With a sit-to-stand desk, you switch positions and keep your floating attention busy, while the rest of you stays focused.
There’s plenty of science to back up the idea that fidgeting helps focus. One way that ADHD children adapt to school work is to fidget, or make small movements, while training their focused attention to a primary task. However, anyone can benefit from fidgeting behavior. According to Dr. John Ratey, author of the book Spark, even small movements increase levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.
And sit-to-stand desks can be a great way to incorporate productive fidgeting into your day. When you can adjust your desk up and down, you increase the possible ways to add small movements into your daily tasks.
That said, if your goal in using a height adjustable desk is to improve focus, be sure to choose one that can adjust quickly along with your movement. Sit/stand desk speeds vary widely, so look for the fastest desk you can find that fits your needs, so you can focus your attention rather than divert it.
To better enable productive fidgeting, experiment with accessories to create a standing fidget desk. Consider adding a wobble board or a foot fidget for an overall boost to your concentration. A wobble board activates muscles to maintain balance, providing just enough stimulation to increase mental focus. A foot fidget can be especially effective for people who tend to move their feet subconsciously.
You May Not Notice Better Focus at First
As with any new behavior, it may take time to become comfortable and natural standing at a desk if you are not used to it. Even with a comfortable an ergonomic standing desk, and accurate settings, standing at work can be a change of pace that takes time to get used to. Adjustable sit/stand desks can make this change easier and more gradual for you.
Some experts recommend setting a timer to remind yourself when to sit or stand when you first begin to use a height adjustable desk. However, these timers can disrupt concentration, which reduces focus, efficiency, and creativity. There are other ways to experiment with different time intervals to find what works best, such as switching positions whenever you feel uncomfortable or distracted, or when you perform certain tasks. Try standing and doodling while you talk on the phone. Or standing while working and listening to a favorite playlist.
Also, it’s important to remember to limit how long you spend standing, especially at first. One study of prolonged standing asked office workers to completely replace sitting with standing. Researchers noted that standing for 2 hours eventually caused discomfort, and reduced the workers’ sustained attention reaction time. To stay mentally sharp at work, keep in mind that you’ll still reap the benefits of standing at work if you sit whenever you’re uncomfortable.
Other Benefits of Standing Desks Can Improve Focus
Many of the general benefits of standing desks can also improve mental focus.
Back & Neck Pain Relief
The comfort and flexibility that comes from a height adjustable standing desk can bring a welcome respite from back pain, depending on the cause. And being relieved of some or all of the back pain associated with sitting at a desk all day can greatly improve your focus and productivity.
More Energy & Stamina
Standing at work, even for parts of the day, has been shown to improve energy and stamina. In one study, researchers followed a group of overweight adults and found that those who used sit-stand desks reported less overall sleepiness and physical fatigue. Another study showed that standing desks reduced physical fatigue when used correctly, even though the participants were actually expending more energy and burning slightly more calories.
Standing desks have also been shown to help reduce mental fatigue during the work day. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, sit/stand desk workers reported improved job performance and work engagement, and less occupational fatigue, compared to a control group. For many people, the benefit comes from sitting for tasks that require more focus, and standing for less focused tasks, like collaboration or talking on the phone.
In fact, there are many other standing desk productivity benefits that come along with increased focus.
Should Businesses or Managers Consider Standing Desks to Improve Workers’ Focus?
An improvement in workers’ health and work environment is a great reason to offer standing desks, especially for workers who desire them or benefit from them for any health-related reason. Many office workers jump at the chance to improve their productivity with a standing desk. Or if your work force still works from home, now is a great time to invest in your team’s home office.
If you’re an employee interested in a standing desk for your own office, your employer may already be aware of the way standing desks increase focus, as well as other benefits. It may be just a matter of figuring out how to request a standing desk.