Standing desks are popular, but choosing a good one is no easy task. You could go with a motorized, whole desk replacement, or DIY a simple solution. You could even buy an adjustable attachment to go on top of your existing desk. Let’s talk about what you may need in a standing desk, what you can get for your budget, and how to choose what’s best for your needs.
A recent series of studies, looking at nearly half a million people in over 10 countries, is mostly clear about one thing: inactivity is worse for you than many other health factors, including obesity. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. We’ve known for a while that sitting all day is terrible for you. We’ve looked at the best standing desks as alternatives, and while they can help, they’re certainly not a panacea. In short, regular activity is really the key to healthier living.
So before you plunge headlong into the world of standing desks, keep that in mind. When we say "the perfect standing desk for you," we’re going to talk about desks that give you the freedom to stand when you like and sit when you choose, comfortably in both cases.
Before You Begin: Think About Your Needs and Take Measurements
You may already have an idea what you’re looking for in a standing desk, but before you spend money or go to the hardware store, there are a few accessories you’ll need regardless of the desk you get, and a little prep work now will make sure you’re comfortable and productive when you get your desk set up.
First, take some measurements. Some standing desks are quite large, while others just add some bulk to the desk you already have. We’ll get to the pros and cons of each option later, but right now grab a tape measure and measure out how large you want your desk work surface to be, and how large a floor footprint you can accommodate in your space. Doing this now makes sure you buy what will fit, but it also helps you if you decide to DIY or buy a whole-desk replacement with variable surface sizes.
Next, measure yourself. Specifically, measure your height, and where you like to keep a keyboard in front of you. Some people are comfortable with just enough room for a keyboard (essentially just a shelf) but if you want room for space between your eyes and the screen, you should account for it. Similarly, you’ll want to measure how high you want your setup to be. Measure once for your monitors, and then again for your desk surface, just so you can account for the height difference between your displays and where your hands will be. Once you have all of these measurements, you’ll roughly have an idea of how tall your desk should be, and how high your displays should be mounted compared to where your keyboard will be.
Now you’ll need the accessories to make an adjustable desk work. An anti-fatigue mat is a must for any standing desk, even if you plan to sit sometimes—and you should. When Lifehacker’s founding editor Gina Trapani looked back at a year working at a standing desk, she explained that sometimes you just have to—and really should—sit down. When you do stand though, a soft mat under your feet makes all the difference both in your comfort and your posture. You can find one like this one at Amazon for less than $20, or grab one of these kitchen-quality super-squishy floor mats for $84. Even The Wirecutter has a suggestion. There’s something for every budget, and every space.
Finally, many people overlook cables and cable management when they buy or build a standing desk. If you plan to stand and sit, make sure you get cables long enough to reach everything when your desk is in a standing position, but aren’t annoying when you sit. Long or retractable cables will keep your workspace organized without sacrificing its adjustability. Similarly, whether you buy or DIY, make sure your desk has some cable management system built-in to it, whether you add a little PVC to your desk, grab an IKEA $10 cable basket, or buy a desk with channels in it, you’ll be happier in the long run if you think about it now, rather than when you’re trying to set it all up.
Decide If You Want to Buy or DIY
Your next big decision is whether you want to buy a standing desk or build one yourself. The answer to this depends heavily on the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into your workspace, obviously, but also on whether you have access to and the skills required to put something nice together you’ll enjoy using. Budget is obviously a consideration as well. DIY options can be super cheap (a few books to elevate your keyboard and monitors, or Marco Arment’s infamous coke can desk), but they can also be extremely expensive and custom (your own motors, tons of plywood, etc.)
However, buying a standing desk comes with its own issues. On-desk attachments can be affordable and adjustable, but sacrifice space and freedom of movement. Whole-desk replacements, like motorized standing desks, offer the most working space and freedom to spread out, but they’re also the most expensive.
Either way, keep time and budget in mind when you go shopping for standing desks. If you’re just getting into the idea, the DIY approach may be best for you, just so you can test the waters and decide whether you really want to stand while you work at all. Then you can move into more specific—and often expensive—standing desk builds.
Option One: Choose an On-Desk Attachment for Affordable and Adjustable Comfort
If you want a standing desk on a budget, and you already have a desk you don’t necessarily want to toss out with the bulk trash, an on-desk attachment is your logical choice. You can make use of the workspace you already have, but give up some of the desk surface to a mount that will elevate your monitors—and ideally, your keyboard. On the upside, these on-desk attachments are usually some of the most customizable (next to the DIY option, of course) and the most adjustable. A few options to consider:
- VariDesk makes an array of sit/stand combination desks that can elevate just your monitors, your monitors and your keyboard, or both. Many of their models, like the ProPlus ($350) and the ProPlus 48 ($400) are relatively affordable but also offer tons of working space beyond just a keyboard and mouse. They even have options for single display and dual display setups.
- The Kangaroo Pro Junior is about $400, and earned praise from The Wirecutter for those folks on a budget and who want a sit/stand desk attachment. The Kangaroo Pro Junior supports a single monitor, and can be raised and lowered depending on whether you want to stand or sit. The keyboard tray is adjustable separately from the monitor mount as well, and you can get detachable side work surfaces if you need more space.
- Workez Adjustable Sit/Standing Desk is only $120 at Amazon, folds up nicely to be stashed away when you don’t want to use it, and supports a single display (or laptop) and a keyboard. If you’re just dipping your toes into the standing desk waters and want something that’s not too expensive, this is a great option. It also doesn’t take up a ton of your desk surface, so you can use the space under it for storage when you stand. Converting it back to a sitting position when you want to sit though may be a challenge.
- The ReadyDesk is a $170 piece of adjustable standing desk art that’ll support two displays (as long as they’re not too heavy) and has a pair of adjustable shelves for your displays and your keyboard and mouse. The shelves are wide enough to accommodate long keyboards, and give you plenty of room to work. The trick here though is that for your affordability you get pretty much a big wooden shelf. It’s sturdy though, and also compresses down into a neat stack of wood, so if you do need to move it, you can—but you won’t switch from standing to sitting too much with this setup.
- Ergotron’s WorkFit series of desk attachments come at a variety of price points and configuration options. Whether you have one monitor or two, a laptop and a monitor, want to raise your monitor but not your keyboard, both, or any permutation of those things, there’s a WorkFit model that you can attach to your current desk. The WorkFit line though is almost all permanent attachments, but some of them are adjustable enough to use sitting or standing. Expect to spend anywhere from $300 to $600 or more, depending on the features or optional add-ins you want.
These are just a handful of options. If you’re looking for more, Apartment Therapy has a great guide to affordable options here, which includes some of the ones above (and a few even cheaper, albeit flimsier.) They also have some options for laptop workers who just want a single, small, adjustable surface. If that sounds like you though, we’re big fans of The Roost, a $75 stand designed specifically for the Macbook or Macbook Pro.
The big drawback with on-desk attachments, though, is that bolting them on to your desk is usually a permanent (or at least, semi-permanent) affair. If you plan to stand, these units will make sure you do, but they don’t necessarily make sitting comfortable. Some account for this, like some of Ergotron’s models, but by and large, these are one-way devices. If you want the flexibility to stand sometimes and sit other times, you’ll need a workspace big enough (and cables long enough) to move your monitors back down when you want to sit, and then back up when you’re ready to stand.
Option Two: Consider a Whole-Desk Replacement for a Comfortable, Full Sit/Stand Experience
If a whole-desk replacement is more your speed, you should probably have some cash set aside. The best options in this category can get to be pretty expensive, and many of them are custom built to order. That means you get complete control over the size of the desk surface, the color, add-on features like whiteboard surfaces or cable management, built-in power, and so on, which is pretty nice. Here are some options to consider:
- The Uplift Desk is a series of fully-adjustable standing desks with wide desk surfaces, motorized lift/lower mechanisms, and frames that can support upwards of 300lb of equipment. That means you can set it up just like any normal desk, and one touch will raise it to your desired (and pre-programmed) height, or lower it to a sitting position. The best thing about the Uplift series is that you get complete control over your build—from the finish and size of the surface to optional attachments like monitor arms and keyboard trays. Uplifts range from $600 to $800 or more, depending on the options you choose.
- The UpDesk is another fully-motorized standing desk that can be raised or lowered with a single touch. The UpDesk is designed to be sturdy without taking up a ton of floor space, features cable management on the underside, and has a minimal, simple appearance that hides a motor that can lift or lower over 300lb. UpDesks come in a variety of sizes, from the approximately $1000 PowerUp desk to the near $1300/$1700 SquaredUp corner-desk that’s the biggest we’ve seen. They’re all pricey, but they’re easy to set up, require little maintenance, have a 5 year warranty, and come in a variety of finishes. If you’re willing to crank the desk up or down yourself, you can check out the $600-$800 CrankUp line, which offers tons of surface area and all the other perks, just no motor.
- The NextDesk Terra is the Wirecutter’s favorite standing desk. While it’s a whopping $1500 ($1600 when you add in power and cable management), your money gets you a high-quality desk surface in multiple finishes, one-touch adjustable height, a 3 year warranty, and a beautiful space-saving aluminum frame that has cable management built into it. It also supports up to 630lb of equipment. It’s also programmable for different users and different heights.
- The Stand Desk is another full-desk replacement that’s easy to set up (assembles in less than an hour), comes with multiple motorized raise/lower control options, multiple finishes, and optional cable management trays. It’s a simple, minimal desk, designed to be affordable and effective (supporting up to 225lb.) The Stand Desk is a more budget-friendly whole-desk replacement, with the frame and top running between $500-$600, and accessories like cable management, power strips, and more each an additional $50-$60.
Again, these are just a few options, and there’s another standing desk on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo just about every week, so if you don’t see anything you like, keep looking or wait a little while. You’re essentially buying an appliance though, which is important to keep in mind. If the motor dies, you’ll need warranty support or someone to call to buy a new one. You also get tons of customization options and the power to build a desk that’s perfect for you. Even so, that luxury costs money. If you spend more than 8 hours a day working behind a desk though, it may be worth it.
Option Three: Take the DIY Approach for a Desk Tailored Specifically to You
When we looked at the five best standing desks, many of you preferred the DIY option. You explained that it was easier to grab a stack of books and lift up your keyboard and monitor than spend hundreds on something new. It may not the most adjustable options, but it’s fast and ideal if you’re just getting into standing desks. On that point, we completely agree and recommend that approach—even to people who already know they want a full desk or a desk mount.
The DIY approach is great because it can run the gamut from super cheap (and kinda janky) to really well done. Many of our favorite DIY standing desks start with a couple of dollars at IKEA. Here are a few options to consider:
- This $25 desk-shelf is essentially a side table with some short legs attached and a keyboard tray. The whole thing fits nicely on top of your desk, so measurements are important to get everything at the right height.
- This slide-out, wall-mounted standing desk looks sharp, hides cables, and slides out so you can sit or stand. You’ll have to use a laptop or a small PC with it, though.
- This $10 build is just a table top and some supporting legs, really—it’s just a tall table that can be used for storage when not in use, or stashed in a corner and rolled out when it’s time to work.
- This desk conversion jacks up your current desk instead of raising your monitor and keyboard. It essentially adds a pair of jacks under your desk that you can adjust yourself, raising and lowering the whole desk. It’s about $40, and takes some work to set up, but it approaches the problem from the other angle, as it were.
- This adjustable monitor mount and shelf didn’t take too much to build, and uses a sliding mount arm so you can stand or sit whenever you choose—you’ll just need the extra shelf for your keyboard when you want to stand.
If you’re willing to get more hands-on, spend a little more money, and build something really special, you have tons of options here too. We have a a guide full of $200-ish full-sized standing desks to check out, complete with their parts lists, to give you some inspiration. Here are a few more specific builds to think about:
- This multi-level, sit/stand adjustable wonder packs cable management, power strips, and more features you may only get from an expensive model, just made at home and customized to the space.
- This motorized, convertible standing desk takes some know-how to build, but it’s still bigger than you’ll get with the pricier pre-built options, and comes with tons of storage.
- This great-looking, wide standing desk is adjustable for sitting or standing, and looks good in any position.
- this electric standing desk is a bigger build, but an incredibly sturdy one. You’ll need some know-how to make this one happen, but if you have it, it’s worth the effort.
- This rolling standing desk is really a workbench on casters, but it’s sturdy, has storage, and can be moved around easily. Add in a few power strips, and your workstation is pretty self-contained.
All in all, the DIY approach doesn’t have to be an upturned tupperware container with a keyboard and some monitors on it, or some unfinished, plywood shelves you nailed together in an afternoon. If that’s enough for you, go for it—but it doesn’t have to be, if you’re willing to put in the time, or at least a trip to IKEA.
If you try out a DIY standing desk and like your experience, you can get the perks of sitting sometimes and standing other times without opting for an expensive setup. My desk, for example, is an old workstation that can be cranked up or down manually that I picked up affordably at my alma mater’s campus surplus store—a tip I’ve mentioned before. Some people swear by using a simple drafting table, which are generally adjustable height (and adjustable angle, although they can be locked in place) as perfect, affordable sit/stand workspaces as well.
Of course, those sit/stand desk attachments and motorized desks have their places too—especially if you have the money for them, appreciate the minimalism they offer, or want something that’s truly adjustable with little effort. Do some digging, and you’ll find a great option for you, whether you’ve never had a standing desk before, or you’re looking for something really unique that adjusts to the way you want to work, instead of vice versa.