How a $280 Treadmill Desk helped me be more intentional.

8 min. to read.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Those are J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, in the mouth of Gandalf. They also perfectly describe the intentional life.

You’ve got a certain amount of time. It happens to be exactly the same amount as the people around you: 24 hours in a day. You have hopes and goals. The most important tool you have for reaching for those goals is your time. How you spend it matters. In fact, this is the chief difference between you and the people you see reaching their goals. They spend their time differently than you do.

The problem, of course, is that some things are fun or easy or have an immediate pay-off. Then there are things that are hard, or slow, or don’t seem to make an immediate difference.  In many cases it is that second category that move you toward your goals.

The intentional life is really about setting yourself up for success in getting those hard things done. Here’s one example. I have two goals that are important to me. Both require hard work. I needed something that would help smooth that uphill climb for me. Craigslist and $280 gave me the answer I needed.

Make Level Paths for Your Feet.

The real goal of intentional living is to clear the path for yourself. Photo Credit: Rick Ramsey
The real goal of intentional living is to clear the path for yourself. Photo Credit: Rick Ramsey

I’m a big nerd with a sedentary lifestyle who really enjoys delicious food. Oh… I also hate exercise. Exercise is hard and painful. In the moment it never seems to be taking me anywhere.

I know that’s all bunk, but my brain just gets bored at the gym. However, I have this goal of being healthy so that I can be around for my family as long as possible. Can you see my problem?

I have another goal. I am a writer and a speaker. I’m in the early stages of adjusting my life so that I can do these two things full time. In order to do this, I want to write every day. Every single day! But every day starts and there are so many things to do. Most of those things feel considerably more urgent than my daily minimum goal of 500 words.

About a year ago I found a solution that marries these two goals. As a result I’ve had more success in meeting them than anything I’ve ever done. It wasn’t about trying harder, or beating myself up when I missed a day. It wasn’t even that costly.

Here’s one of the little known tricks of intentional living. The best “life hacks” are not about forcing yourself to do something. They are about making it easier for you to do something. Picture a path through the mountains winding toward your goal. The path is full of rocks and downed trees. It’s hard going. The effort required to navigate all the obstacles makes turning back attractive. Those obstacles represent all the reasons and excuses you have for not moving forward, all the justifiable alternatives for how you could spend your time that don’t move you toward your goal.

Proverbs 4:20-27  offers sage advice for moving forward with a positive and productive life. One line in this ancient poem says, “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” This line acknowledges that the path toward anything good in life will be covered with obstacles. It also places responsibility squarely on you. Don’t complain. Don’t give up. Instead, make a level path. Do what you can do to make the path forward easier for yourself. The goal is setting yourself up for success.

Craigslist and $280 helped me to make a level path for myself with these two important goals.

My Level-Path Desk

I’ve been a standing desk user for close to ten years now. This has gotten rid of my lower back pain, helped considerably with RSI that was developing in both of my wrists, and gotten me up out of a chair for 8 hours a day, with much more energy and creativity in my work. More on the benefits here, here and here. I love my standing desk.

While my standing desk solved some problems for me, it wasn’t really making things easier for me to meet my two important goals. That’s when I came across the idea of a treadmill desk.

Note: I’m going to describe this thing in detail because I’ve had several requests for how I created this. If that’s not interesting to you, skip down to the next header.

I’d seen online ads for beautiful rigs with build in controls and a desk surface that moves up and down. Too much money! So, I tried something simpler. I went to Craigslist and found a treadmill. Treadmills are great to buy on Craiglist. Why? Brand new they are incredibly expensive, but lots of people buy treadmills and then in a few months give up on them. Eventually, wanting to recover the enormous amount of floorspace they take up, they dump them for cheap on Craigslist.

Here's a wide shot.  It's simple. It didn't cost much.  It's created the most productive space in my home. Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone
Here’s a wide shot. It’s simple. It didn’t cost much. It’s created the most productive space in my home. You’ll also see a number of other helpful things: A framed copy of Jeff Goins’ Artist Manifesto for inspiration, a copy of my brand promise and target audience document to keep me focused, a copy of my personal core values, some journals, a cup of earl grey, and some books I refer to frequently. Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone

I found a great Pro-Form 735CS for $250 online. It has a large very sturdy deck (something you need if you’re a big person or walking every single day), quite a wide range of incline and speed, and — most importantly for my plans — arms.

Then I went to Lowes and bought a 3/4” board, 16” x 36”, two full sheets of foam insulation, aluminum tape, and a cinch-strap. This cost me about $30.

I cut the sheet insulation to the size of the board with an exacto knife, so I had several sheets. (I could have used wood for this, but wanted a cheaper solution that I could easily cut and customize at home.)

Then I stacked the insulation sheets under the board and set the whole stack on the arms of my treadmill. I put my laptop on it and tried typing. It took adjusting the number of sheets to get the typing angle just right. For best ergonimics, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle when typing.

Once I had the right height, I bound the sheets together with the aluminum tape so that the “desk-top” became a single piece. The arms on my treadmill angle slightly downward toward you, leaving my desk surface angled as well.

Here the sheet foam insulation came in handy. It was trivial to carve out two wedges that I could insert between the desk-top and the arms. Once I had the angle right, I taped the whole thing together and attached it to my treadmill with the cinch-strap around the arms.

Now I have a solid desk surface, at the right height and angle, and all the treadmill controls remain exposed and accessible. Total cost: $280.00.

My Level-Path, Goal-Meeting, Writing-and-Exercise Desk

The treadmill desk has become an indispensible part of my work-flow. I have these two goals: Write a minimum of 500 words a day and exercise. The treadmill desk has married the two together. I get up in the morning, brew a cup of tea and get on the treadmill.

I started out at 2 MPH, and now I can type, mouse, and mentally focus at speeds up to 3.5 MPH, and I’ve started increasing the incline. I try to walk 5 miles every day, but there are often days when I will walk 7 or 8 because I can just keep working while I walk.

Presently with life circumstances, children, and early morning appointments, I don’t hit my goal every day. But I’m doing at least 4 days a week. Never in my life have I exercised so consistently, or spent intentional time working on my writing goals.

A treadmill desk may not be the right solution for you. But the principle behind my desk is a powerful one.  Where can you make a small amount of investment in your life in such a way that you “smooth the path” toward your goals? Don’t try to exert more effort. Don’t beat yourself up when you miss your goal. Instead, look for ways to make those steps easier. You’ll find yourself moving toward your goals almost automatically.

10 thoughts on “How a $280 Treadmill Desk helped me be more intentional.

  1. Wow, how what a cool desk. I don’t have your problem as I’m on the go most of the day.
    I’ve been living with intention now since I started reading Richard Rohr’s amazing books on the second half of life and the dualistic mind I’ve really seen the changes in my life and it helps me to stop and let the Holy Spirit show me ‘that’ person different from me, is also created by God, another miracle in the making and deserves my respect. Now getting my own ego out of the way, is the next challenge when you live in an over-achieving, beat you to the top, society. God bless you and your family in your journey with Christ. Joyce

    1. Thanks, Joyce. One of the first things my therapist had me do was read “Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Second Half of Life.” It was like he was inside my head. Really amazing life experience. (I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about what to do with the rest of their one0-and-only life.

    1. It’s made a huge difference for me. But then, I have the flexibility to work from home for part of the morning. Then I go into my office where I have a normal standing desk.

  2. This is great!! When I am at home working, I would love to have something like this. I am not that graceful though so it may take some practice. Incorporate a printer/scanner and I’m sold!! I drive a lot so that is when I get a lot of thinking done. I can only imagine the amount of thought when your active and moving. Very Cool!!

    1. Hey Heidi! How cool to see you here! Thanks for leaving a comment. I had to start at a slower pace. But you’d be surprised how little practice it takes. You can’t see in the picture, but I have a printer/scanner just around the corner. And, you’re so right about the level of thinking. Writing while I walk really keeps my brain moving.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I am on my first day on a standing desk. I’ve been standing for nine hours and it is really hard for me. I have no alternative because a chronic abdominal pain stops me from sitting. Do you think that a treadmill would make things easier for me? Is walking at a slow pace less tiring than standing?

    1. Juame, be encouraged. I think the standing desk can make a big difference for you. But it’s hard going to get started. Your body isn’t used to standing for so long. It’s strange to think of standing as exercise, but if you’ve been sitting at a desk for years, your body just isn’t used to it. Here are some thoughts to help you:

      1) Take it in bursts. When I started with my standing desk, I had both options. A standing desk and a small traditional sitting desk. I’d work at my standing desk when-ever I was working on my computer, but for phone calls I’d sit. Change it up so that your muscles don’t get locked into one position.

      2) Take walking breaks. Our bodies were made to move. Sitting for 9 hours, or even standing in one position for 9 hours, is really wearing. Every 30 minutes take a 2 minute walk around your office. Go up and down the stairs. Go get coffee. Whatever.

      3) Be gracious with yourself. Using a standing desk is a skill. It takes different muscles than you’ve been using. Know that you’ll build strength and endurance over time.

      As for whether the treadmill might help, that’s an interesting idea. I guess you could test it by standing at work for a couple of hours and seeing how much pain you have, and then on another day taking a couple hour walk and seeing if the pain is different. I’m not a doctor or expert, but I suspect the walking might be better than standing just because our bodies were designed to be in motion. But that’s definitely an uneducated opinion.

      Good luck on your pursuit! I’d love to hear how it goes.

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