Category Archives: Freelancing & Advice

My Adventures with a Standing Desk

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Just about every media outlet has written something about standing desks as of late. Here’s all you need to know: sitting is killing you slowly and people love their standing desks. Once they start, they can’t stop. I am no exception. Here’s what else you need to know: you can hack your own standing desk very easily and cheaply, but make sure you buy an anti-fatigue mat. SRSLY. Ok. Back to my story…

One Monday in April, I was feeling fat so I started researching treadmill desks. I soon realized it was unlikely I would be able to afford one or use one or hack one. So I jerry-rigged the next best thing — a standing desk. With my wedding dress box (for my keyboard), an overturned Target storage bin (for my desktop), and a pile of books (for my trackpad), I managed to create a decent set-up. And I fell in love after four hours.

I didn’t mess around on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest because I was standing. And if I was standing, I wanted to power through my work so I could get it done and eventually reward myself with the chance to sit. But here was the even more magical part: there was no afternoon slump. I actually felt energized once 5PM rolled around — I worked out, made dinner, did my laundry, and cleaned my entire office after a full day of work. I was hooked. My feet hurt pretty badly that night, but that was my only side effect besides the boundless energy. After a few days, there was still no back pain but my legs and butt were sore from standing so much even with the extra padding from my gym shoes. But overall I felt 100 times better.

Although a standing desk proved to be a game changer, spending $1000+ on a potential fad seemed a bit extreme. I promised myself that I could splurge on an electronic standing desk if I first used a cheaper hacked standing desk every day for three months straight. After some serious online research about the best anti-fatigue mat and how to hack a standing desk with IKEA products and the proper height dimensions for standing desks, I ordered a few supplies:

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Paired with my overturned Target storage bin and my existing desk, this standing desk hack served me well. Because I work from home, I can wear workout clothes and bare feet. Why is this helpful? Because I’m constantly stretching and moving and stepping and tip-toeing and bending and squatting and lunging. I essentially use my desk like a ballet barre. When I want to take a break and sit down, I slide the anti fatigue mat under my desk, ditch the shelf, angle my screen downward, and roll up my chair. With an automated electronic standing desk, I could change from standing to sitting with a push of a button.

Did I end up using a standing desk every day for three months? Nope. This summer I went on a coffee shop rampage because I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the weather. Sitting at a table at a coffee shop really hurt at first — it was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t last for more than an hour. But don’t worry, I worked hard to keep my ass in that chair and re-instilled the horrible habit of sitting all day. Eventually my back started hurting so badly that continuous yoga classes were the only remedy. I finally realized how stupid I was and went back to the standing desk situation in my office.

Now it’s September and I’m just getting back into the routine. If I last through December, perhaps it will justify a $700 Locus Seat (for quick sitting breaks) and this $500 standing desk. But when you think about it, $1200 is a small price to pay for a healthier body and a more productive career.

The Chicago Coffee Shop Report: Where to Work Summer 2014 Edition

photo (1)As a freelancer, the number one question I’m asked is whether or not I get stir crazy working from home. Funny enough, I tend to get cabin fever in the summer not the winter. In the winter, I’m more than happy to avoid a snowy commute and cold temps, but in the summer I want to get out there and join the world. Because of that, I’ve been frequenting coffee shops often lately. Just like the Eater 38 (an updated list of the best restaurants in the city), I want to compose a quarterly list of the best places for freelancers to work from in Chicago. If you know of any great places to work from in Chicago that meet the strict requirements, let me know! I’d love to check them out!

When I go to a coffee shop, I expect a beautiful place where I can do good work. I want to avoid coffee shop disasters. As always, here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Free wi-fi
  • Plentiful outlets
  • Food made in-house
  • Good music
  • Great ambiance
  • Comfortable seating

1. Buzz Killer Espresso (Wicker Park)
Despite the two-hour wi-fi limit (I just grab multiple wi-fi cards from the counter… shhh…) and the fact that there’s no food (I sneak in my own and sit upstairs… shhh…), the lighting in this place can’t be beat. My favorite place to sit is in the upstairs booths — each table has a plug and there’s a bathroom just a few steps away. I love that they leave the windows open so it’s never freezing. There’s also a small outdoor patio overlooking Damen. Oh, and the iced coffee is addicting.

2. Bourgeois Pig (Lincoln Park)
This is a new find for me so now I’m obsessed. It’s an incredibly overpriced sandwich shop (with dishes named after literary characters) on one side, a coffee shop on the other, and it’s all built into an old house with cozy nooks and rooms. I love the upstairs seating on the coffee side and the weird portraits hanging from the wall. Apparently the owner lives above the sandwich side. Old school jazz plays all day and it’s amazing. No limit on the wi-fi despite what the Yelp reviews say. Small outdoor patio.

3. Filter (Wicker Park)
An old reliable. There is a full working kitchen here with legit breakfast and lunch options plus tons of vintage couches, seats, and tables plus plenty of outlets. Filter always has a laid back vibe and there’s no limit on the free wifi. You’ll never be disappointed here — unless you want to sit outside because there is no outdoor seating. Cash only but you can also pay with the Level Up app, which hooks up to your credit card.

4. Heritage Bicycles General Store (Lakeview)
This place is like hipster catnip. Bike store + coffee shop = awesome atmosphere. It feels like a real neighborhood joint where everyone knows each other. I mean, the owner lives upstairs with his family for the love of god. His kid rode through the shop on a little scooter to say goodbye to his dad, which was the cutest thing ever. There aren’t a ton of seats and you’ll likely sit on a stool at a communal table, which could get uncomfortable for extended periods of time. There’s also a small seating area outside overlooking North Lincoln.

5. Alliance Bakery (Wicker Park)
Another neighborhood favorite. Pick up a delish croissant or cronut and iced coffee then head next door to their wifi outpost or sit outside on the patio. The seating area is nothing fancy but it’s quiet and charming and looks onto Division. Because it’s detached from the bakery, you don’t have to listen to loud espresso machines.

In the running:
Lovely: A Bake Shop (Noble Square): Great light, delish food.
Big Shoulders (Noble Square): Decent atmosphere.
The Wormhole (Wicker Park): A little too cool for school.
Dollop (River East): Super tall ceilings, lots of light.
Floriole (Lincoln Park): When the huge front windows are open, it’s great.
Gaslight Coffee Roasters (Logan Square): Seating options aren’t great.
Letizia’s Natural Bakery (Wicker Park): Great food, patio in back.
A Baker’s Tale (Ukrainian Village): Cute place.

Places I want to check out soon:
The Winchester (Ukrainian Village): Open all day, free wifi.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Bucktown): New breakfast service with wi-fi coming soon.
Elaine’s Coffee Call (Lincoln Park): No wifi unless you’re a Hotel Lincoln guest.
Puck’s at Museum of Contemporary Art: Don’t need to pay museum admission.

Non-Coffee Shops with Free Wi-Fi:
Harold Washington Library (South Loop): I love working from the Winter Garden.
Chicago Cultural Center (Loop): Need to test this one out one more time.
Cafecito (South Loop): Best cuban sandwich ever, next to a hostel so there’s always an interesting crowd.
Little Goat (West Loop): I effing love this place and there’s a rooftop now.

The Blacklist:
All Intelligentsia Coffee Shops: I love your coffee, but you have no outlets and terrible seating.
La Colombe Coffee — it’s beautiful but there’s no wifi or food. But there is bubbly water on tap.

Illustration by me, on the Paper app.