Most accountants like organization, yet I often see total chaos on their computer desktops.
A typical CPA’s screen looks like this.
We’d be much better off if our desktops looked like this.
Creating Order on Your Desktop
So how can you bring order to your desktop?
Use Fences. The cost is $9.99, but well worth the iconic bliss.
Once Fences is downloaded, you simply right-click and drag on your screen to create a new fence (see below). Above you see a fence titled “Programs.” You can arrange the icons in whatever order you wish. To add an icon to a fence, you simply drag it to the desired location.
Once you arrange your icons, they stay that way. When you reboot your computer the next morning, you’ll find your icons in the same order.
Fences YouTube Video
Here’s a video that provides additional information:
My Experience with Fences
I’ve used Fences for about five years and have found it useful. I recommend it.
To see physical office setup ideas for accountants, click here.
I said to my wife, “Am I driving straight?” I felt as if I was weaving, not quite in control. I felt dizzy and heard clicking noises in my ears.
The mystery only increased over the next two years as I visited three different doctors. They stuck, prodded, and probed me–but no solution.
Meanwhile, I felt a growing numbness on the right side of my face. So one night I started Googling health websites (the thing they tell you not to do) and came upon this link: Acoustic Neuroma Association. I clicked it. It was like reading my diary. It couldn’t be. A brain tumor.
The next day I handed my doctor the acoustic neuroma information and said, “I think this is what I have. I want a brain scan.”
Two days after the scan, while on the golf course, I received the doctor’s call: “Mr. Hall, you were right. You have a 2.3-centimeter brain tumor.” (I sent him a bill for my diagnosis but he never paid–just kidding.) My golfing buddies gathered around and prayed for me on the 17th green, and I went home to break the news to my wife. I had two children, two and four at the time. I was concerned.
Shortly after that, I was in a surgeon’s office in Atlanta. The doctor said they’d do a ten-hour operation; there was a 40% chance of paralysis and a 5% chance of death. The tumor was too large for radiation–or so I was told.
I didn’t like the odds, so I prayed more and went back to the Internet. There I located Dr. Jeffrey Williams at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I emailed the good doctor, telling him of the tumor’s size. His response: “I radiate tumors this size every day.” He was a pioneer in fractionated stereotactic radiation, one of the few physicians in the world using this procedure (at the time).
A few days later, I’m lying on an operating table in Baltimore with my head bolted down, ready for radiation. They bolt you down to ensure the cooking of the tumor (and not the brain). Fun, you should try it. Four more times I visited the table. Each time everyone left the room–a sure sign you should not try this at home.
Each day I laid there silently, talking to God and trusting Him.
Three weeks later I returned to work. Eighteen years later, I have had one sick day.
I’ve watched my children grow up. They are twenty-one and twenty-three now–both finished college. My daughter is engaged to be married. My wife is still by my side, and I’m thankful for each day.
So what does a brain tumor story tell us about audits? (You may, at this point, be thinking: they did cook the wrong part.)
Audit Lessons Learned from a Brain Tumor
1. Pay Attention to Signs
It’s easy to overlook the obvious. Maybe we don’t want to see a red flag (I didn’t want to believe I had a tumor). It might slow us down. But an audit is not purely about finishing and billing. It’s about gathering proper evidential matter to support the opinion. To do less is delinquent and dangerous.
2. Seek Alternatives
If you can’t gain appropriate audit evidence one way, seek another. Don’t simply push forward, using the same procedures year after year. The doctor in Atlanta was a surgeon, so his solution was surgery. His answer was based on his tools, his normal procedures. If you’ve always used a hammer, try a wrench.
3. Seek Counsel
If one answer doesn’t ring true, see what someone else thinks, maybe even someone outside your firm. Obviously, you need to make sure your engagement partner agrees (about seeking outside guidance), but if he or she does, go for it. I often call the AICPA hotline. I find them helpful and knowledgeable. I also have relationships with other professionals, so I call friends and ask their opinions–and they call me. Check your pride at the door. I’d rather look dumb and be right than to look smart and wrong.
4. Embrace Change
Fractionated stereotactic radiation was new. Dr. Williams was a pioneer in the technique. The only way your audit processes will get better is to try new techniques: paperless software (we use Caseware), data mining (we use IDEA), real fraud inquiries (I use ACFE techniques), electronic bank confirmations (I use Confirmation.com), project management software (I use Basecamp). If you are still pushing a Pentel on a four-column, it’s time to change.
Finally, remember that work is important, but life itself is the best gift. Be thankful for each moment, each hour, each day.
Evernote is a game-changer for CPAs.
What is Evernote?
Think of it as your personal digital library.
Evernote is a cloud-based storage system which allows you to capture and file voice recordings, documents (including Word, Excel, PDFs), pictures, and videos. Once information is placed in Evernote, it is searchable in a Google-like fashion. Even hand-written notes are searchable.
Things CPAs Can Do with Evernote
Here are examples of what you can do with Evernote:
- Create a personal digital library (e.g., use an Evernote digital notebook to store Journal of Accountancy articles, CPE material, and videos of class instruction)
- Share individual files or notebooks (a compilation of files) with others (with the premium version you can collaborate with others, allowing them to change Excel or Word files)
- Capture meeting conversations with your smartphone and save them to Evernote
- Use your smartphone to take a picture of meeting notes on a whiteboard (remember manually written words are searchable in Evernote)
- Encrypt selected text within an Evernote note (password protected); it can’t be viewed without the password
- Add selected web information to Evernote using an Evernote clipper
- Email any document directly to your private Evernote email address (which adds the emailed information to a “to be filed” folder in Evernote)
- Create a local Evernote notebook for sensitive information (the notebook resides on your local computer and does not synchronize to your Evernote cloud account)
The Skeletal Framework: Notes, Notebooks, and Tags
1. The primary element of Evernote is a note.
Think of a note as a blank piece of paper on which you can type. You can also attach other files to the note (e.g., an Excel spreadsheet or a picture taken with your cell phone or a voice message recorded with your cell phone).
2. Notes are placed in notebooks.
Think of a notebook as a three-ring binder.
For example, if I want to create a note about comprehensive income, I can do so. Then I can attach related files (e.g., PDFs) to the note. Next, I might add a note about other comprehensive income and another about reclassifications from other comprehensive income. The separate notes can be–for example–a text file, an Excel file, and a voice message.
All three notes can be added to a notebook titled Comprehensive Income.
3. You may also tag each note.
Alternatively, I can place the comprehensive income notes in a notebook titled accounting (a more generic category) and tag each note as comprehensive income. Then I can search and find all comprehensive income notes by using the comprehensive income tag. When I type tag:”comprehensive income” in the Evernote search bar, all such notes appear.
Getting Information Into Evernote
Feed your Evernote account in multiple ways.
You can use Evernote apps or programs on your iPad, PC, and smartphone to add information to your account.
I use this smartphone app to make and save pictures, notes, and voice messages to my Evernote account.
Evernote also provides you with a unique email address that can be used to feed information into your personal cloud. When you find something you want to store, you can email it to your Evernote account.
Also, you can use the Evernote clipper to capture information on the fly, such as when you are browsing the Internet. Just download the Clipper program from the Evernote website.
Another neat way to get information into Evernote is with your scanner. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap to feed scanned pages directly into Evernote.
Using Evernote on an iPhone – An Example
In this two minute video, I demonstrate the use of notebooks and notes inside of my Evernote account.
To Create Your Account
To create your account, go to the Evernote website and follow the directions. There is a free version if you desire to try it out. The premium version is $70 per year.
Here are two recommended books if you desire to learn more about Evernote:
CPA Scribo Facebook Group: Join Now
If you are interested in some dialog about accounting and auditing issues, I invite you to join my new Facebook group: CPA Scribo.
Why the group? I believe this will give you a community where you can engage with other CPAs and accountants on a one-on-one basis. The communication will be more free-flowing than my blog.
So join and share a thought, a pain, a victory, a challenge, a question. I look forward to getting to know you better.
It’s a closed group, so you will need to ask to join.
The link to join is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1260820653952216/?ref=bookmarks
Today I give you seven steps to review financial statements on computer screens.
I recently provided you with a post titled How to Review Financial Statements Efficiently and Effectively. That article provides information about creating and reviewing financial statements, but it does not provide information about doing so on a computer screen. Many accountants prefer to review physical copies of financial statements. Others prefer to do so on their computer screens. This article is for the latter group.
How to Review Financial Statements on Computer Screens
- First, open and visually scan the entire financial statement (spend two to three seconds per page) just to get a feel for the whole product. How do the parts fit together? Are the financial statements subject to the Yellow Book? Do they contain supplementary information? Are the statements comparative?
- Second, use a large computer screen (22 inches or more) to compare your financial statement pages. Reduce the financial statement page size by holding the control key down and scrolling back with your mouse. As you do so, you will see multiple statements on the screen, for instance: balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. Now that you can see multiple statements, you can tick and tie your numbers. I use step 2. to compare the financial statement numbers. For example, I compare the net income number on the income statement to the same number on the cash flow statement. Then I use step 3. to compare the financial statements to the notes and the supplementary information.
- Next, use two to three computer screens to compare your financial statements with the notes and supplementary information. Open the financial statement on each screen–for instance, the balance sheet on screen 1, the notes on screen 2, and the supplementary information on screen 3. In Word, click View, New Window and another instance of the document will open. Then you can move the new instance to a second screen. Alternatively, you can use the side-by-side feature in Word to place two open documents on one screen. (To see my physical office setup, click here.)
- After completing your review of the notes, return to and take a second look at the balance sheet to see if the disclosures are complete. (Since you just reviewed the notes, it’s easier to compare them to the balance sheet. If, for example, you look at the balance sheet and see inventory but no disclosure for the same, you’ll more easily see the error.)
- Use the find feature (in Word, click the Home tab, click Find, then key in the number–or word–you are looking for) to locate words or numbers. If you want to compare the long-term debt number on the balance sheet to the notes and to supplemental information, type that number into your search dialog box and you’re immediately taken to the same number in the notes. Click next, and you will see the next instance (in the supplementary information). You can do the same with words. (Note-If you embed Excel tables in the Word document, the find feature will not locate numbers in the embedded tables.)
- When needed, take breaks. Never spend more than 1.5 hours reviewing statements without taking a short break. You get more done by relaxing periodically.
- Finally, if you are reviewing financial statements in Word, consider turning on Track Changes and key in suggested revisions. Word reflects your modifications in a distinct color–that way, others can see your suggested changes. They can also see who made the suggested corrections. Thereafter, they can accept or reject the proposed changes.
Those are my ideas. What are yours?
Are you a CPA looking for ways to increase your productivity?
Here are ten suggestions.
1. Control f
First, I see too many CPAs hen-pecking around, trying to find information in their electronic piles. Many times the quickest route to finding information is Control f (Command f on a Mac). Hold your control key down and type f. This action will usually generate a find dialog box–-then key in your search words. Control f works in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat.
2. OCR Long Documents
Computers can’t read all electronic documents (that is, not all documents are electronically searchable). Sometimes you need to convert the document to OCR. OCR stands for optical character recognition. So how can you make an electronic document readable and searchable?
Scan documents into Adobe Acrobat and use the OCR feature to convert bitmap images into searchable documents. Then use Control f to locate words. When should you OCR a document? Typically when it’s several pages long. Do so when you don’t want to read the entire document to find a particular word or phrase.
For example, suppose your client gives you a one-hundred-page bond document, and you need to locate the loan covenants. Rather than reading the entire document, convert it to searchable text (using Adobe Acrobat) and use Control f to locate each instance of the word covenant.
3. Dispatching Paper Quickly
A clean work surface enables you to think clearly.
So make filing decisions quickly–as soon as a paper or electronic document is received. Keep your desk (and computer desktop) clean.
If you can dispatch a document in less than two minutes, do so immediately. For documents that take more than two minutes to file, electronically scan them. Then place the document in an action folder on your computer’s desktop. (If you don’t have time to scan the document at the moment, create a To Be Scanned pile in a paper tray.)
You’re thinking, “But I’ll forget about the document if it’s not physically on my desk.” Allay this fear by adding a task in Outlook to remind you of the scanned document (you can even add the document to a task). I create tasks with reminders. So, for example, the reminder pops up at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning; attached is the relevant document. That way I don’t forget.
For more information about scanning, see my post How to Build an Accountant’s Scanning System. I also recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done which provides a complete system for making filing decisions.
4. Close Your Door
An open door says what? Come in.
A cracked door says what? Knock and come in.
A closed door says what? Don’t enter, especially without knocking.
I close my door for about an hour at a time. Additionally, I turn off all electronic devices and notifications. Doing so allows me to focus on the task at hand.
5. Use a LiveScribe Pen
Do you remember everything someone says in a meeting? I don’t. Livescribe allows me to take notes and simultaneously record the conversation. Then I can hear any part of the conversation. For example, if I–in a meeting–write the words “intangible amortization,” I can (later) touch the tip of my pen to that phrase (in my Livescribe notebook) and hear what was said as I wrote those words. That way, I don’t have to call a meeting attendee and ask, “What did you say about intangible amortization?”
6. Take Breaks and Naps
Another idea is to take breaks and naps.
Counterintuitive? Yes, but it works.
I come from the old school of “don’t lift your head up or someone will see how lazy you are.” I’m not sure where this thinking comes from, but you will be more efficient–not less–when you take periodic breaks. I recommend a break at least once every two hours.
Naps? You may be thinking, “Are you kidding?”
Research shows you will be more productive if you take a nap during the day. It doesn’t have to be long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes after lunch. You’ll feel fresher and think more clearly. According to Dr. Sandra Mednick, author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, napping can restore the sensitivity of sight, hearing, and taste. Napping also improves creativity.
Michael Hyatt recently listed several famous nappers:
- Leonardo da Vinci took multiple naps a day and slept less at night.
- The French Emperor Napoleon was not shy about taking naps. He indulged daily.
- Though Thomas Edison was embarrassed about his napping habit, he also practiced his ritual daily.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, used to boost her energy by napping before speaking engagements.
- Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy,” routinely took naps in his dressing room between performances.
- President John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a nap—every day!
- Oil industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.
- Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was non-negotiable. He believed it helped him get twice as much done each day.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson took a nap every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to break his day up into “two shifts.”
- Though criticized for it, President Ronald Reagan famously took naps as well.
For empirical evidence that naps help, check out the book Rest, Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.
Also, here are more ideas to create energy in your day.
7. Answer Emails and Phone Calls in Chunks
If you pause every time you get an email or a phone call, you will lose your concentration. Therefore, try not to move back and forth between activities. Do one thing at a time since multitasking is a lie.
Pick certain times of the day (e.g., once every three hours) to answer your accumulated emails or calls.
I run (by myself) or walk (with my wife) six times a week–usually in the morning before work. Exercising helps my attitude and clears my mind. Also, I feel stronger late in the day.
9. Lunch at 11:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m.
Another idea: Go to lunch at 11:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. Why stand in line?
10. Take One Day Off a Week
Finally, I usually don’t work on Sundays (even in busy season). For me, it’s a day to worship, relax, see friends, and revive. I find the break gives me strength for the coming week.
Muddled minds destroy productivity.
These are a few of my thoughts. Please share yours.
Are you looking for technology tips for accountants? Here are ten tips that will make you more productive.
Ten Technology Tips for Accountants
Here are my top ten technology tips in no certain order (with links to prior blog posts).
- Use Skitch to create annotated screenshots.
- Use Office 365 to jointly create Word or Excel documents with others.
- Use Basecamp to manage projects (such as audits).
- Use Scanbot as your phone scanner.
- Use a Livescribe pen to take notes with audio.
- Use Evernote as your personal digital library.
- Travel light as a minimalist auditor.
- Use your cell phone in creative ways as an accountant.
- Use technology to save your life.
- Use technology to make your office work life more efficient.
Those are my ideas. What are yours?
Are you looking for tips on searching your Evernote account?
Today I was working on a fair value note disclosure and needed to find information about the reconciliation required for level 3 changes. I knew I had, several weeks ago, fed my Evernote account with an example fair value disclosure. So I typed “fair value” “level 3” in my Evernote search box. Presto, there it was, and it took me about ten seconds.
Once you add hundreds and, yes, thousands of notes to your Evernote account, you need to know how to find the needle in the haystack.
Searching Your Evernote Account
Back in the 60s, when I was a mere child, I could call the operator if I needed help locating someone. While you can’t call Evernote operators, they are just as helpful in finding, not people, but information.
You can use operators in an Evernote search box to locate particular information. Some of the more commonly used operators are:
And – Normally you will not type the word “and” as an operator; it’s implied. So if you type: comprehensive income in the search box, Evernote will locate all notes with the words comprehensive and income. If you want to see all notes with the phrase “comprehensive income,” then type: “comprehensive income”–using quotation marks.
Any – Typing the words “any: compilation review” will provide all notes with either the word “compilation” or the word “review.” If a note has the word “compilation” (and not “review”), then it will appear in your search list. If a note has the word “review” (and not “compilation”), then it will also appear in the list.
Tag – By typing “tag:Bank” into the search box, you’re telling Evernote that you want to see all notes tagged “Bank.” (You can tag each note regardless of which notebook it is in; for example, you might have four different notes in four different notebooks, but each tagged “Bank.”)
Notebook – Let’s say you have a notebook titled: Auditing (along with 70 other notebooks). You can type: “notebook:Auditing” in the search box and Evernote will locate your auditing notebook.
Intitle – Typing “intitle:derivative” will yield all notes with the word “derivative” in the title. So if you have one note titled “Mitigating Risk with Derivatives” and another note titled “Derivative Disclosures,” both notes will appear in your search list.
Created – “created:day-1” will provide you with a list of all notes created yesterday and today. You can substitute “day” with “week,” “month,” or “year”. If you want to see all the notes created in the last two weeks, issue a search with “created:week-1.”
Searching becomes even more powerful when you combine operators.
For example, typing:
Intitle:derivative swap “cash flow hedge”
will provide you with all notes that have the word “derivative” in the title and the words (1) “swap” and (2) “cash flow hedge” as a phrase.
Another example, typing:
Notebook:Accounting any:swap “cash flow hedge”
will provide you with a list of all notes from your accounting notebook that have either the word “swap” or the words “cash flow hedge” as a phrase.
Notebook:Bank tag:Deposits FDIC “Due to Due from”
will provide you with notes from your Bank notebook that have a “Deposits” tag and that contain the words FDIC and “Due to Due from” as a phrase.
Give It a Try
Go ahead, try some of these tips with your Evernote account. You’ll soon be sifting through your notes with ease.
Evernote offers a free version, so if you haven’t tried it, give it a test drive.
You’ll find more information about Evernote in the following posts:
Do you ever find yourself digging through hundreds of emails to find one message? You know it’s there somewhere, but you can’t put your electronic finger on it. Use Slack to communicate by project–that way, you’ll have all messages (by project, e.g., individual audit engagement) in one place.
What is Slack?
Slack is software designed to allow project teams–e.g., audit team–to send and store messages. Why use Slack rather than traditional email? Messages are stored by channel (by project), making it much easier to see project conversations.
The Slack website says the following:
Most conversations in Slack are organized into public channels which anyone on your team can join. You can also send messages privately, but the true power of Slack comes from having conversations everyone on the team can see. This transparency means it’s quick to find out what’s going on all across the team, and when someone new joins, all the information they need is laid out, ready for them to read up on.
How CPAs Use Slack
How can you as a CPA or auditor use Slack?
Create a channel for each project, and ask all team members to communicate using Slack (rather than email).
In CPA firms, some activities are year-round such as quality control reviews (we perform several hundred a year). Other activities are a true project, such as an audit engagement. Either way, you can use a separate (Slack) channel to communicate and store all related messages.
Using Slack for Quality Control Reviews — An Example
Below you see an example of how Heather, my associate, and I use Slack to communicate about file reviews in our quality control department. By doing so, we can see who is doing what and when. Also, all of the messages are searchable by channel. So, suppose I’m wondering when we reviewed the ABC Bank engagement. I can search the CPR (cold partner review) channel to see who performed the review and when. Notice, in this channel, Heather and I are posting status comments. We do so for the following reasons:
- To create a history of each review
- To notify each other that the review has commenced (Slack automatically sends a notification message to those included in a channel)
To select our quality control channel, I click the CPR channel on the left (where all the channels appear). Once I click CPR, I see the most recent messages for this channel.
Audits – Another Example
Think about a typical audit. You have three to five team members, with some individuals coming and going. To maintain continuity, you need a message board that allows all audit team members to see what is going on. That’s what Slack does when you create a channel for a particular audit. Think of it as a message board in the cloud since the designated personnel can see the audit communications with their PC, iPad, or cell phone.
Other Advantages of Slack
Advantages of Slack include the following:
- Accessibility from all devices, including cell phones and tablets
- Shareability of documents such as PDFs and spreadsheets
- Integration with other apps such as Trello and Google Calendar
- Configurable notifications of messages to team members
- Private messaging (when needed)
- Basic plan is free
Give It a Try
The best way to see how Slack works is to try it yourself. You don’t need any training since it’s easy to use. To see more information about Slack, click here.