Three Ways to Increase Your Recall (and Look Smart)

Record and remember everything

Is it possible to recall everything said in a meeting and remember every word for years? Well actually, yes.

Here are three ways to increase your recall.


Take your notes using a Livescribe pen, and take pictures with your smartphone of whatever you desire to retain. Then store the data in Evernote. It’s that simple.

The Livescribe pen records audio in conjunction with your notes. After the session, touch a word in your notes and the audio will play at that point in the conversation, allowing you to hear a select part of the discussion.

Use your smartphone to take snapshots of handouts or notes on a whiteboard. Use scanbot (an iPhone or android app) to take several pictures and then upload them.

65% Realization–Again?

Leaks that sink audit engagements

You’ve just completed another audit, and you see your realization is 65%. You encourage yourself with the thought that next year things will be different. Next year you won’t have the same unexpected problems. Next year your staff will have more experience. But then you recall thinking the same thing last year, and the year before that. Why does this keep happening?

Low realization (the heavy discounting of standard rates) usually implies our engagement has leaks. So how can we right the ship? Here are a few thoughts.


Picture courtesy of

Leaky Hole 1: Too Much Weight

Boats with light loads move quicker.

During your off-season (if you have one), review the file. Work paper files, like our closets, tend to accumulate unneeded clutter. Eliminate unnecessary work papers that add no value. Useless work papers have a strong tendency to reappear in the future. Why? Staff will often mimic the prior year file.

Leaky Hole 2: Not Identifying Risks

A good captain knows where the shoals are.

If we can identify our risks, we can focus on the essential–that which must be addressed. Doing so may require a change of habits, a change from auditing by automatic pilot to one of doing more work in the beginning stage of the engagement. Identifying risks is hard work and requires a greater level of skill than “beating up the balance sheet.” But risk-based auditing is more effective and efficient.

Risk assessment includes the following:

  • Creating effective planning analytics (do variances exist that merit attention?)
  • Walk-throughs (understand–really understand–significant processes)
  • Understanding the entity (What are the numbers that management and the board focus upon? What keeps management awake at night?)
  • Perform your brainstorming session (open discussion will generate better ideas)

Then take these disparate elements and synthesize them into your formal risk assessment.

The result: a plan that identifies and responds to risk.

Leaky Hole 3: No Budget

A good captain has a map (a target).

I’m not concerned with tracking time by audit areas. Doing so may take more time than it’s worth. But I want my audit team to know what the overall target is–the amount of time for the total engagement. And if they meet that goal? Give them a reward. A day off. (Okay, maybe a half day.) Take them out for a nice meal. Provide a small bonus.

Targets create focus.

Rewarding efficiency generates future success (even if we don’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express).

Leaky Hole 4: An Old Boat

Replace old boats.

Is your firm using outdated computers or software?

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Does each staff member have a portable monitor?
  • Does the team have a quality scanner?
  • Is the team working out of the cloud?
  • If your firm is not paperless, why not?
  • Are your work papers linked to the trial balance?
  • Does your firm provide audit templates by industry specialization?
  • Has the audit team received current technology training?

And If You Already Do These Things?

Can the fee be negotiated? If not, it may be time to let go of the engagement. Not all jobs are desirable, and this one may, in fact, inhibit your ability to seek out better opportunities.

Tech Tip #4: How To Quickly Bring a Quote from an Email into a Response

Do you ever read an email, and a particular sentence elicits a response from you. Often, in responding, we click reply and begin to type, attempting to restate the original thought from the email.

Is there a quick way to copy the relevant sentence into your response? Yes.

First, highlight the words you desire to bring into your response.


Next, click the reply button (as you normally do).


The highlighted sentence appears in your response. Now you can comment on it. Your correspondent will love you since you’ve made it easy for her to understand exactly what you are referring to.



Tech Tip #3: Link Your Work Papers to Your Trial Balances

Many CPA firms link their trial balances to their work papers, but I still see many that do not. The consequence of not linking: Inefficiency. Firms that don’t link will re-create all their work papers every year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

How does linking work?

First, linking assumes your firm is using a paperless software package (the trial balance is a part of your paperless software).

Second, create a work paper in Excel (for example).

Third, link a cell in Excel to a number in your trial balance (say the adjusted balance for a cash account). See your paperless software package instructions for directions (the specifics of how this works is different for each paperless software package, but the concept is the same).

Once your work papers are linked, you can do magic. How? Download your trial balance, and your work papers automatically populate. It’s awesome!

So, for those work papers that look the same from year to year, build your links, and you’ll never have to re-create them again.

After you create these work papers in the first year, you will roll them over for the subsequent year’s engagement; the links will remain. When you download the trial balance for the next year, the numbers will again populate your linked work papers. Then go play some golf–you’ll have more time to do so.