It’s often said that a clear desk is the sign of an organized mind, but keeping a work area clean can indicate an efficient IT staff as well. Here’s the story of one untidy user whose carelessness wasted reams of printer paper, not to mention the IT department’s time. While this story applies to a college setting, its message is universal for computer users.

How long is your report?
Years ago, I coordinated the help desk at a college. One day a student approached me in a panic. She had printed her assignment and the two pages had come out, followed by a seemingly endless stream of paper. I put the printer on hold, looked at the printer queue, and saw that her job ran to over 500 pages. This had blown her print allowance for the term.

I cancelled the job and credited her account back with the unused page allowance. Thinking the problem was over, I returned to my desk and she set about correcting several typos she had spotted in her document. A little while later the same thing happened, only this time her print job was listed as 1,000 pages, and the print server locked up.

Are you a student or a pack animal?
Once equilibrium had been restored, I went to the student’s desk and found a fairly typical scene. Students at my college were in the habit, or so it seemed, of carrying all their worldly goods with them at all times. They would arrive for class looking like a caravan about to cross the Sahara. This student’s desk was covered with food, large bags, and an overcoat. There was also a continuous beeping sound coming from the computer.

I put her coat over the back of the chair, issued my usual warning about bringing food into the IT suite, and put her bag on the floor. The beeping stopped. I asked how long the beeping had been going on. She replied that it had started as soon as she sat down.

Her bag, large enough to hold enough clothes for a two-week family holiday, had been pressing on the corner of her keyboard and had now extended the document to over 1,200 pages.

Wasting paper
I wish that I could say this was a one-time occurrence, but, unfortunately, it was par for the course for this clutter-loving student body.

While the large print jobs and incessant beeping were annoying, the real problem occurred when students produced pages of Zs or exclamation marks. In such cases, the paper could not be reused. Being a state-funded college, our financial resources were limited, and wasted paper was not easy to justify. We finally imposed a 10-page-per-document print limit and a yearly allowance of 500 pages per student. All this could have been avoided had the users kept their desks clear.

The bottom line
While most corporate users aren’t prone to placing several large bags atop their desks, it’s not uncommon to find computers buried in mountains of paper, piles of used coffee cups, or a mass of wadded-up tissues. Such collections of rubbish contribute to dust accumulation, increase the likelihood of garbage getting into the floppy disk or CD drives, and improve the chance of a drink spilling into the keyboard. Although we’re all adults and many users would take offense to you standing over their shoulders each time they have a can of soda on their desk, you can provide some gentle guidance to help keep the area around their PCs a little cleaner.

Help desk horror stories

When was the last time you dealt with a problem or user that drove you crazy? Have you had to answer 100 support calls in a single day? Share you wildest and most frustrating IT support stories by posting a comment to this article.