My (self-selected) gift from my wife and children this past Christmas was a treadmill desk – specifically, a Lifespan TR1200-DT5 – that I’ve been using just about every day since. Susan Orlean’s recent New Yorker article – and the fact that my mention of the treadmill desk at my last few speaking engagements has garnered more interest than anything I had to say about web development – prompted me to offer up some thoughts.
I work from a home office, designing and developing websites. An average week might hold four or five in-person client or volunteer meetings; I’m lucky to have to travel infrequently. So a typical day finds me working from home, typing code on a laptop with some phone/remote-session meetings. I’m on the treadmill during perhaps half of my home-office time, walking at an average of 2.5 miles per hour and putting in anywhere between five and ten miles on a given day. (Given that I usually bill consulting by the hour and my walking speed is pretty steady, I find my aggregate income is now, strangely, mileage-dependent.)
I find there is little I can’t do while walking – I can write code, do graphics work, etc. – other than writing by hand (writing a check, for instance, is almost impossible.) A key aspect of the setup for me was to mount a big external monitor to the wall behind the desk: the monitor is close to my face, prevents me from having to look down at my laptop, and stays quite steady.
The treadmill desk has been, quite honestly, great. I’ve worked it into my daily routine in a way that doesn’t require any hassle – there’s no driving to the gym, finding a time when the pool is open, or waiting for the weather to allow for a walk. I suppose a downside is that the treadmill desk is a barrier to separating from work – from getting out for a walk in the sun, away from client calls and deadlines – but the upside is that I’m getting exercise and avoiding lower-back-pain-inducing sitting while doing work I’d be doing anyway.
The cost for the treadmill desk I have is not inconsiderable (but not much beyond what one might spend on a good non-desk treadmill) but, in my opinion, well worth it; I’ve lost about 12 pounds since using it. Whether you end up buying a pre-built treadmill desk or DIYing one from the treadmill serving as a clothes rack in the spare bedroom, I would recommend it highly.