Do Your Best Work — Use a Standing Desk for These Tasks

December 08, 2018

work at standing desk
work at standing desk

A men working at standing desk

Molly Geipel

Numerous studies have established that using a standing desk can boost brain power and increase positive. A seminal study by the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health found that call center employees who used standing desks were 46% more productive than their seated colleagues.

Hack Your Productivity By Pairing Tasks With Position

However impressive the cognitive and physical benefits of standing at work may be, standing all day long isn't the secret to landing a raise or securing a promotion. Studies like this one show that spending too much time on your feet will cause you to develop aches, pains, and lack of focus that cancel out the benefits.

As more research investigates the cognitive impact of sitting versus standing in the office, we're gaining a better understanding of how each plays a role in work performance. While some tasks are better suited to sitting, others are best completed on your feet. Knowing which tasks to perform in which position will allow you to "hack" your productivity and advance at work.

Cognitive Benefits of Standing

A 2017 study by David Rosenbaum found that people process new information more quickly while standing than sitting. Rosenbaum's team used the Stroop effect to measure cognitive response time. The Stroop effect is the name for the lag time our brains experience when we are processing contradictory stimuli.

Rosenbaum asked Tel Aviv University students to complete Stroop tests while sitting and standing. In a color naming exercise, mean response time was 32 milliseconds faster while standing than sitting. In an arrow direction identification exercise, response time was 72 milliseconds faster while standing.

Another 2017 study that investigated the effects of standing on task performance and engagement found that while standing did not have a significant positive or negative impact on task performance, it did a positive impact on engagement.

Participants reported feeling more interested, enthusiastic, and alert prior to tasks that would be performed while standing. These three emotional states indicate a state of increased engagement, which the research team defines as a "work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption."

The secret to why standing has these benefits may seem counter-intuitive: Standing is more physically and mentally demanding than sitting. Previous studies have established that a mild level of stress actually stimulates cognitive performance. Because standing creates a state of mild stress, it makes us slightly more alert overall.

Work Tasks You Should Do While Standing

Knowing that standing improves processing of new information and increases mental engagement, in order to hack your productivity you should try standing while completing the following tasks:

  • Conference Calls — Even with the best of intentions, it's easy to zone out during conference calls. Standing during a conference call can help you pay closer attention and better absorb any new information you learn on the call.

  • Answer Emails — Remember that mild state of stress we mentioned earlier? Combined with slight physical discomfort, it makes you work just a little bit faster, perfect for tasks you need to get done, but don't want to spend too much time on.

  • Jumping Back Into Long Projects — When you're working on a long project, it's normal to lose steam halfway through. Standing up can help rejuvenate your motivation and engagement when you feel your stamina flagging.

Cognitive Benefits of Sitting

While sitting doesn't receive the same cognitive accolades as standing, it's not without its benefits. A recent study exploring the effects of self-positioning and posture on cognitive executive function compared performance in various cognitive processes while sitting versus standing. The cognitive processes tested included complex attention, reaction time, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.

Researchers found a significant improvement in complex attention performance in the seated condition compared to the standing. Complex attention was defined as the ability to keep sustained focus, resist distraction, and process information. It was measured using a combination of results from a Stroop Test, Shifting Attention Test, and Continuous Performance Test.

Finally, while slight discomfort experienced while standing contributes to the mild state of stress that promotes focus, that discomfort can make it hard to sustain engagement for long periods of time. In the same study that found the correlation between standing and cognitive engagement, participants reported feeling more comfortable during the exercises they completed while sitting. Because sitting is more comfortable and is less demanding (physically and mentally), it's easier to stay immersed in one task for a longer period of time.

Work Tasks You Should Do While Sitting

Evidence tells us that complex thinking, analysis, and deep concentration excel when we're sitting comfortably. Try completing the following tasks while sitting:

  • Multitasking — It seems that we are better able to split our attention while seated — likely because we are not also having to devote mental or physical energy to standing. If you are planning to multitask two things (or more) at once, it's best to take a seat.

  • Writing — On the opposite end of the spectrum, performance on writing tasks will also benefit from sitting down. Writing requires complex thinking and sustained focus, both of which are correlated with sitting.

  • Data Analysis — Requiring close concentration and detailed, complex thinking, data analysis is another task well suited to sitting. If you work with spreadsheets, large volumes of data, or finances, you may find those tasks are easier to do while sitting.

  • Long Projects — Working on a quarterly report or an important presentation? Longer projects that require sustained focus over several hours may be easier to complete while sitting. Because fewer of your mental and physical resources are required to sit, you have more leftover to devote to your assignment.

Maximizing Productivity With a Standing Desk

Ultimately, maximizing your productivity with a standing desk is not about how long you spend sitting or standing, but which tasks you choose to do from each position. Experiment with performing different tasks while sitting or standing to learn which positions work best for you.

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