Spend 20 bucks, build yourself an adjustable standing desk in 20 minutes

You probably know that sitting on your butt all day isn’t good for you, but you might not realize just how bad it is. According to one frightening study, people who spent more than 11 hours per day in a chair were 40 percent more likely to die within the next three years, compared with those who sat for 4 hours.

Unsurprisingly, the tech industry is obsessed with standing desks, and companies such as Stir charge thousands of dollars for fancy desks with adjustable heights.

I liked the idea of working while sitting and standing throughout the day, but I didn’t believe the benefits were worth spending that much money. I also didn’t want to add a separate desk to my office, because that would require a second computer and take up too much space. Fortunately, I found a much cheaper option thanks to Colin Nederkoorn, who built his own standing desk with roughly $20 worth of IKEA parts.

Some assembly required

With a bit of tweaking of Nederkoorn’s design, an extra monitor, and the right software, I now have the best of both worlds in a single desk—an area for standing, right next to a place to sit, with a seamless way to switch back and forth. Here’s what you need:

  • One IKEA Lack side table ($10)
  • One Ekby Viktor shelf ($6)
  • Two 11-inch Ekby Valter brackets ($4 each)
  • One or more thick books, such as a phone book
  • A copy of DisplayFusion software ($25)
  • Four 1.5-inch screws
  • Four antiskid pads ($1.50)
  • A wireless mouse and keyboard
  • At least two desktop monitors
  • A desk with at least 22 square inches of room to spare

The goal is to build a Lack table that sits on top of your main desk to elevate your monitor to eye level, and then bolt the shelf on to provide a place to use your mouse and keyboard at a comfortable height.

If you’re short on space, consider swapping the Viktor shelf for the $2 Ekby Laiva and using 7-inch Valter brackets ($3 each) instead of 11-inch ones. The Laiva shelf is about 6 inches shorter horizontally and 1.5 inches shallower than the Viktor—and it’s $6 cheaper—though it might not be big enough to support large keyboards.

Either way, assembly is simple, and shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes.

Assemble the Lack by screwing the legs into the underside of the table—it might be the easiest furniture to build in the IKEA catalog. Next, stick an antiskid pad onto the bottom of each table leg.

Figure out a good height to attach the Viktor shelf to the legs of the Lack table. Your elbows should be at or just above your mouse and keyboard. It helps to have a buddy hold up the shelf while you determine the optimal height. Use a pencil to mark the table legs along the underside of the shelf, and then hold one of the Valter brackets against the table leg, with the top of the bracket lined up against your pencil marking. Use a wood screw on the top bracket hole, driving it into the table leg.

If you’re having trouble driving the screw into the wood, twist just enough to make a small mark. Then, remove the bracket and keep trying. Use your free hand to keep the screw steady while carefully rotating with the screwdriver until the wood starts to give in. You shouldn’t need a drill, but if you just can’t get that wood screw to burrow into the table leg, it’s okay to resort to power tools.

Repeat the process with the other bracket. If you’re comfortable with the height, go ahead and screw in the bottom of each bracket, and then place the finished table on your desk with the monitor on top.

Add enough books underneath the monitor so that your eyes line up with the top third of the screen. This step is important, because you’ll strain your neck if you have to crane it constantly while standing in front of your monitor.

Classing up the joint

That’s it! The basic setup is complete, but you can make it classier by replacing the stack of books with a proper monitor stand. Office Depot, Staples, and other office-supply stores sell risers and stands for as little as $17, but if you require more than 4 inches of lift, you’ll need to buy a more expensive stand. Staples has a $27 stand with a maximum height of 6.5 inches.

Once you’ve assembled the desk, you’ll want to install some good multimonitor software to switch between the standing and sitting areas. I recommend DisplayFusion, because it lets you create sitting and standing presets that you can easily toggle. This flexibility is especially useful if you have more than one monitor in your sitting area and you don’t want to mess with Windows display settings every time you switch.

DisplayFusion is a handy, inexpensive utlity that lets you quickly switch your desktop environment—including the notification bar, the taskbar, and more—between two or more monitors.

To create profiles, right-click the DisplayFusion icon in the notification tray, hover over the ‘Monitor Profiles’ option, and click Create/Edit Monitor Profiles. Click the monitors that you won’t use while standing, and select Disabled from the drop-down menu on the left side. Once you’ve set up your monitors, click Save Profile in the top-right corner, and then click New Profile. Give your profile a name, such as Standing. Now, create a second monitor profile, enabling only the displays you’ll use while sitting. Save this profile as Sitting.

After setting up these profiles, you can swap between them by right-clicking DisplayFusion’s notification tray icon, hovering over ‘Monitor Profiles’, and selecting either of your configurations. Having a wireless mouse and keyboard is especially helpful, since you can take them with you between workstations.

The beauty of this setup is that you don’t have to stand all day. With just a few clicks, you can give your back and legs a break with minimal interruption to your work. Being able to stand isn’t only healthier, it also makes for a nice change of pace if you’re bored or you need to clear your head—and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to make it possible.

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