First rule of automation: Go ahead and automate

Pilot fish is part of a two-man IT department at a family-owned company where the atmosphere is pretty laid back.

"An employee who had worked there for at least nine years -- using the same version of Excel the whole time -- called me one day to ask for help printing a spreadsheet on legal-sized paper," says fish. "No problem, I thought -- this is an easy one."

Fish heads over to the employee's desk and slowly shows her how to change the layout, shrink the margins and set the printing width to one page so she'll have maximum coverage per page. Sheet printed, issue resolved.

Next morning the same user asks fish to do it again for a different spreadsheet. OK, fish figures, that run-through could be a lot to take in for someone who doesn't already know it. Sheet printed, issue resolved again.

Later that day, the user asks again. Then twice more the next day. The morning after that, she tells fish, "I just can't do it. I can't print it on legal. Can I just send it to you and you do it for me?"

Sure, whatever is quickest, fish says.

But soon the number of sheets to print is three per day, then five, then ten -- all spreadsheets emailed to the user by a customer.

Why do you need a hard copy of these sheets? fish eventually asks user.

"So I can fill in the blank columns with order info from our system," user says.

OK, but why the hard copy?

"So I know what to type into the spreadsheet on the computer." A different spreadsheet? "No, the same one that gets printed."

Wait, if you have the hard copy, why the electronic copy? "So I can email it back to the customer with our info in it."

And then you file the hard copy? "No, I throw it away. I don't need it since I have the electronic copy."

Sighs fish, "That's correct -- the spreadsheet is emailed to her, she prints it out, manually writes in missing order info, then types the same info into Excel and sends it off.

"Instead of getting into some pointless debate about wasting time, I spent an hour writing VBA code for a toolbar button in Outlook that, when clicked after selecting an email, would instantly print any spreadsheet attachments in the email to legal paper.

"The only times I had to deal with the issue after that were when the button 'stopped working,' meaning that the printer was out of legal paper so it defaulted to letter size."

Sharky hopes your "Send" button is working. Use it to email me your true tale of IT life at You'll get a stylish Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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