Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business.



Stand in the place where you work

April 2015

Different situations have different effects on the brain. Subtle effects. One of the reasons I use eclectic types of writing technology is because the tool affects the output. Basic writing tools let me focus on writing. Constraint breeds concentration. Take away distraction and the written content produced is likely to be more tightly focused and clean.

But it's not just the tool that matters. So does the environment, and in particular the orientation. Various studies over the years have shown that the seated position is the least productive for most people. Even for something as simple as a telephone call, if you want to project a positive image and achieve a good outcome, stand up when you're talking.

Sitting down all day is also detrimental to your health. Quite apart from the obvious issues with posture, spine curvature and neck/shoulder/arm ache, it's not good for... well... for your gluteus maximus and associated anatomy. In fact it can be a right pain in the... you get the idea.

So, if standing up is good for the brain and good for the body, why don't more people do it? One reason is habit. An office is traditionally a space full of desks. Usually fixed-height desks, with fixed-height chairs and all sorts of other furniture best-suited to people who work in the seated position.

To change that global culture would take a massive effort, an enormous expense and the reshaping of an entire supply industry, not to mention a landfill site the size of Belgium for all those unwanted office chairs. Sorry about that, Belgium.

There would also have to be proven benefits, not to mention allowances for people who, for one reason or another, either don't want to stand or simply can't stand for long periods of time due to physical constraints.

But I work for me, from a home office, so none of that applies. I don't have to wait until the world decides it's time to work standing up. I can do it now, and I do. It's been many years since I first wrote standing up, but now I do it whenever it's practical.

Standing desks are slowly becoming more popular. Some are fixed, some are adjustable, either with a hand-winder or an electric motor. I'm not going to go into the details of the various models on the market, because this isn't a comparative review and I haven't tested them. I've never even used them.

I chose the simpler route. I asked a local carpenter to make me one of their recycled plywood workbenches (not as ugly as it sounds). "Keep the existing dimensions, please, except the height. Can you make the top 110cm high?"

No problem. Two weeks and not much money later, it arrived. 2.7m long, 110cm high and 80cm deep. I realise that sounds huge, and the carpenter assumed I was setting up a home bar, but I needed space to set up my ever-growing collection of antique computers for writing work.

110cm high works for me, based on the distance from the ground to my elbow height. Your mileage may vary. Advocates of adjustable desks recommend them because you can fine-tune the height, but again, this is my home office. If the desk is too low I'll take my shoes off. If it's too high I'll put them back on again.

I love it. I can produce good quality content much faster when standing than when seated. And it's much better for my posterior too.

Alex Cruickshank is CEO and Chief Wordsmith at Ministry of Prose and likes to work at the right level.

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