How to Build an Accountant’s Scanning System

Corralling your paper monster and getting control

Are you overwhelmed by stacks of paper? Do you find it difficult to locate information you know you have? Well, here’s a scanning system that will help.

I have the privilege of visiting other CPA firms, and we have about 120 people in my company, so I have the opportunity to see plenty of offices. It is my observation that some CPAs are paperless, but many are not.

Scanning System for CPAs

Picture is from

One problem with “paper everywhere” is we can’t find what we need. We have it (somewhere), but we can’t find it. Scanning is the easiest way to capture and organize the paper monster.

To create order, take three steps:

  1. Buy a scanner
  2. Build a scanning structure
  3. Build scanning habits

1. Buy a Scanner

My scanner is a Fujitsu iX500. It sits just to my right in my office (see picture below), so I don’t have to leave my desk to scan. Convenience is key to creating order. Otherwise, you will think, “I’ll scan that later,” which doesn’t happen. Then the paper is littering your desk–and distracting you.

CPA's office

Picture of my office

The iX500 costs less than $425, so it’s not a huge cash outlay. The scanner’s footprint is small (the dimensions are 6.1 x 11.4 x 6.6 inches) and it only weighs six pounds. Also, the scanner comes with  software (ScanSnap) that offers you destinations such as these:

Scansnap Software

ScanSnap File Locations

I often scan to Evernote, my cloud-based library. Another favorite destination: Caseware, our paperless engagement software. These end locations are my digital scan structure.

2. Build a Scanning Structure

So, of course, when you scan, you need final resting places for your documents.

My two primary file locations are:

  • Evernote for non-engagement documents
  • Caseware for engagement documents

Non-Engagement Documents

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a raving Evernote lunatic. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Ease of use (it’s intuitive, making it easy to understand)
  • Notebooks (you use notebooks to organize your documents)
  • Tags (you can tag each note with multiple tags, making it easy to find the material)
  • Feed-ability (I can feed Evernote from my scanner, email, clip-apps, drag and drop, and many other ways)
  • Find-ability (Evernote even recognizes hand-written notes making it possible to search electronically and find a keyword–even if written)
  • Accessibility (I can access Evernote from my iPhone, iPad, and desktop)
  • Cost (about $60 per year; they do offer a free version but with limitations)
  • Allows storage of a variety of documents (including Excel, Word, PDF, Audible files)

There are other cloud-based storage systems such as OneNote and Dropbox. Pick one and learn it well.

Engagement Documents

If your firm is not already paperless, consider making the leap. We have used Caseware for years and, personally, I love it. We use this software for storage of the following engagement files:

  • Tax
  • Audit
  • Reviews
  • Compilations
  • AUPs

My firm has built templates for each of these services, so everyone in our firm knows where documents (including scans) belong.

To scan promptly, you need to build habits, so creating a repeatable, mental system is critical to the process.

3. Build Scanning Habits

Build your scanning habits. My system is as follows:

  • If it takes less than two minutes to scan, scan now
  • If it takes more than two minutes, I place the paper in a file tray where I will later batch process
  • Scan all paper by the end of the day
  • Don’t leave unscanned paper on my desk (it’s a distraction)
  • Keep a shred box just below my scanner (where I place sensitive paper documents)
  • For long documents (e.g., CPE workbook), ask an assistant to break down the paper copy, scan it, and email it to me (I don’t use my Fujitsu scanner for heavy-duty scanning. We have a copy machine that will convert large scans to PDF.)

Like any new habit, new scanning actions will–at first–feel awkward and inconvenient. But push through the pain and the actions will become routine.

Act Now

You may feel like the above will take too much time to implement, especially if you have lots of paper. So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Schedule your scanning plan. Pick two days a week and put one hour a day on your calendar. Then attack. Slay your paper monster. I dare you.

Click the scanner image below to see the Fujitsu scanner on Amazon.

More Evernote Information

For more information about Evernote, check out these posts:

Evernote for CPAs

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

Tips on Searching Your Evernote Account


Are You All In or Not In at All?

Why some accountants experience genuine joy (even at work)

In the 1970s, I worked as a 4-H camp counselor. The kids who visited us were 10 to 14 years of age. My fellow counselors and I had a saying: “Love the Little People” and this we did with all our hearts. We were “all in.” (That’s me in the blue below–you can go ahead and laugh.)

Rock Eagle Counselors

Rock Eagle Camp Counselors 1978

Each week, the yellow buses would roll in and a new adventure would start. A fresh batch of little ones to pour our lives into. And we’d begin again–yelling, running, jumping, swinging, playing, swimming, crafting, laughing. We knew one thing: Love the Little People.

By Friday morning, the end of that group’s camping experience, the kids asked for autographs, gave hugs, and, yes, even cried (and we did to).

Why was this so rewarding? I think the secret lies in what Jesus said, “To find your life, you must lose it.” It’s is in giving and caring about others that real joy is found.

What did I learn from my four summers of serving others at Rock Eagle 4-H Center and Camp Wahsega?

To be fully engaged, we must be all in. We must know our mission. We must believe in the mission. We must pursue it—fully. In so doing, we become immersed. We experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Time flies. We almost forget we exist. There is effort–sometimes great effort–but there is joy.

Why (Some) Accountants Don’t Have Joy

For most working men and women (including CPAs), life has lost its zip. We get up on Mondays because we have to. We work all week to pay the bills. And when Friday comes, we are thankful. We are not “all in.”

Can our work life be different? Yes.

No–on Friday morning–I don’t think anyone will ask for my autograph, hug me, or cry–except possibly for the joy of not seeing me a couple of days. But can we work in a way where flow happens? I think so.


Traditional Services

Find your passion, your mission. What is it that elevates your pulse, that causes excitement? This passion may be, for some, the performance of traditional services. I do know CPAs that love tax planning or performing audits. Is there a niche within those areas that “floats your boat”? Maybe your thing is nonprofit audits. For you tax guys and gals, is there a specialization that gets your juices going?

Why not develop your skills and knowledge in those areas? It may take time, money and effort. But if that special place causes you to come alive, pursue it. I find far too many CPAs meander, almost by accident, into their worklife.

Why? We don’t reflect. We don’t plan. We respond. This passive approach will land us and keep us in the land of existing rather than thriving.

If you’ve grown bored with traditional services, maybe it’s time for a change.

Non-traditional Services

Others find their joy in new adventures, something not in the traditional realm. Are you into big data? You love extracting meaning from reams of numbers. You enjoy wrapping your arms around immense databases. Learning a package such as IDEA fires you up and makes you feel powerful. Then intentionally lean in that direction. Build a five-year plan to become one of the top big-data CPAs in the country.

Other non-traditional service ideas include:

  • Software training
  • SOC reporting
  • Internal control design
  • Forensic services
  • Writing accounting books
  • IT consulting
  • Project management
  • Risk management

What’s Your Mission?

So, whether your passion lies in traditional or non-traditional services, I go back to mission. What are your goals? Who do you want to become? How can you get there? In finding answers to these questions, you’ll discover that which speeds your pulse. Joy is found in the pursuit of your goals and in the use of skills learned to serve others. 

Take Time to Reflect

Consider taking a day off to just think about where you are and where you want to go. Staying perpetually busy will not allow you to “think about your thinking.” So find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and think. Write down your goals and then once a month review them to see if you are still on track.

Before taking time off, you may want to read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. You’ll find insights into planning your life and staying on track–that way, you can be “all in.”