How I Use Evernote as my Digital Library

CPAs gain huge benefits from Evernote

I wrote my first Evernote post about two years ago, and I am–more than ever–a believer in this product. I said, at that time, that Evernote is a game changer. It was and still is.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a phone call with a technical question, queried my Evernote account, and provided an answer in just a minute or two. It makes me look far smarter than I am.

Evernote for CPAs

Why I Use Evernote

If you are not using this product (or one like it, such as OneNote), I strongly recommend you do. Why?

  • 24/7 access to my information from any place
  • Searchable notes
  • Folders for filing and organizing my library
  • Multiple tags can be attached to any note (making it easier to find the information)
  • Easy-to-use Evernote interface (making use of the product intuitive)
  • Storage of a variety of documents (e.g., Excel, Word, PDF, plain text, JPEGs, pictures taken with my camera)
  • The ability to share any document via email and Evernote’s chat feature
  • The ability to share folders with anyone (those persons can see anything I place in the folder)
  • The ability to create and store voice messages from within Evernote
  • The ability to store my accounting and auditing research (so I can retrieve it at any time)
  • The ability to access my Evernote account using my iPhone, iPad, and laptop
  • The ability to store a variety of documents in one note (so, if I like, I can place a PDF and an Excel document on the same note and then make text comments above those two documents)
  • Provides a convenient place for storage of expense report support (I take pictures of my receipts using my iPhone)

Notebooks and Tags

As you can see above, I now have 3,400 notes–and my digital library continues to grow daily. Those notes are stored in electronic folders (called notebooks in Evernote); some of my notebook names include:

  • Auditing
  • Accounting
  • Blog
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Expense Report
  • Quality Control

The notes placed in these folders are tagged. For example, I might have a note about internal control weaknesses that I put in my Auditing folder; I can create a tag such as “Material Weakness.” If I have 200 notes in the Auditing notebook, I can locate this particular note by typing–in Evernote’s search box–“Tag: Material Weakness”; this will cause all notes tagged with “Material Weakness” to appear (regardless of the notebook they are in).

Free or Premium Version

I use the premium version which costs $50 per year, but Evernote offers a free option. Sign up here. (I receive no compensation from Evernote.)

Prior Evernote Posts

To see my previous Evernote posts, click below:

Recommended Evernote Book

To take a deeper dive, buy Brett Kelly’s book Evernote Essentials for $29. Click here. (Again, I receive no compensation for this recommendation. This is the best Evernote guide I have found.)

Four Steps to Making Memorable Presentations

How to leave a lasting impression

If you’ve read the book Presentation Zen, you know that many speakers–without intending to–hide their message. In watching CPE presentations and board presentations, I have noticed that (we) CPAs unwittingly hide our messages. How? We present slide decks that look like intermediate accounting textbooks–chock full of facts, but too much to digest. And do we really believe that those attending will take those slides back to the office and study them?

Probably not.

My experience has been those slides end up in the office dungeon, never to be seen again. We have one chance to communicate–in the session.

iStock_000016828736XSmall

Courtesy of iStockphoto.com

It is the presenter’s duty to cause learningSo how can we  engage our audience (even those sitting on the back row reading the newspaper)? Let’s start with the slide deck.

1. Make Simple Slides

I try to have no more than two points per slide, and I leave out references to professional standards (at least on the slides).

What happens when you see a slide that looks like it contains the whole of War and Peace? You may think, “Are you kidding? You want me to consume all of that in the next three minutes. Forget it. I will not even try.” And then you begin to think about your golf game or your next vacation. So how much information should you include on a slide?

Nancy Duarte recommends the glance test for each slide. “People should be able to comprehend it in three seconds.”

2. Include a picture related to the topic

For example, if I am presenting to governmental auditors, I might create a slide that simply says Bribes with a picture of someone being bribed.

3. Tell a story (and ask questions)

People love stories. If your presentation is about bribes and you have not audited a bribery situation, Google bribes, and you will find all the fodder you need. If you can’t find a story, use a hypothetical. Why? You are trying to draw your audience in–then maybe they will put that newspaper down (your most triumphant moment as a speaker!).

Also engage your audience with questions. Stories get the juices going; questions make them dig. And, if the audience is with you at this point, you now have dialog. This is when it gets fun. Those talking learn, the audience learns, and, yes, you learn.

4. My last point: Move

Move. Not too much, but at least some.

A statue is not the desired effect. Michael Jackson is also not the desired effect (moonwalking was never in my repertoire anyway). But movement, yes. I like to walk slowly from side to side (without moonwalking) and will, at times, move toward the audience when I want to make an important point. And, no, I am not moving constantly.

Presentation Software and Handouts

Presentation Software

If you have an Apple computer, let me recommend Keynote as your presentation software. I do think PowerPoint (for you Windows users) has improved in the last two years, but I personally still prefer Keynote.

One More Point

If you need to provide detailed information, use handouts (I sometimes provide narrative summaries in addition to the slide deck). Then, if you like, refer your audience to the supporting material.

Your Presentation Tips

What do you do to make your presentations sizzle?

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

How to store forms, research, articles, sample financial statements

Do you find yourself overwhelmed with information?

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Maybe you spend several hours researching interest rate swaps and file the information away, but months later–at the very time you need it–the material vanishes. You spend 20 minutes searching through your computer folders, but you can’t find it.  (Where did you put it? You know you filed it away.) The result: You spend three more hours doing the same research–again. What a waste!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own personal electronic library? That way, all of your research, sample financial statements, forms, professional articles, expense reports, meeting notes, screenshots, etc. are all in one place–and accessible with search features. Such a place exists. It’s called Evernote. I previously provided an overview of Evernote that you can see here.

Today we’ll look at seven ways to feed Evernote.

First Set Up Your Default Evernote Notebook

Before sending information from one of your devices (e.g., smartphone) to Evernote, specify where it should go. My default landing area: To Be Filed notebook. (You will need to create the To Be Filed notebook in your Evernote account.)

Setting Default Folder

Since I send information from a variety of devices, I initially send information to the To Be Filed notebook; later, when I have time, I tag each note (e.g., Fair Value) and then move each to an appropriate notebook (e.g., Accounting).

Tip – If you put an asterisk in front of the folder name (e.g., *To Be Filed), Evernote will present it (the folder) at the top of your folder list. This will make it easier to locate your default folder.

In short, my standard operating procedure: (1) capture on the fly and (2) classify with a block of time (it usually takes me less than five minutes each day to tag and move the new notes).

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

1. Smart Phones

You can use your smartphone to create and send pictures, text files, and voice messages to Evernote.

To download Evernote for an Android phone, click here.

iPhone users should download the Evernote app.

Here’s a screenshot of my iPhone Evernote app.

iPhone evernote

2. Scanners

I use a Fujitsu scanner (model iX500) to scan documents directly to Evernote. (The iX500 costs about $400 from Amazon.)

scanner

3. Web Clippers

Evernote provides web clippers for browsers including Safari, Explorer, Google Chrome, and Firefox. If you click this web clipper link, Evernote will automatically recognize your browser; then download the clipper software to your browser. While browsing, click the Elephant icon to clip a portion of the web page, the full page, or the full article.

Clippers

4. Hotkeys

Evernote allows you to use hotkeys to capture information from any program (as long as Evernote is running in the background). To activate screen clipping, use the key combination (e.g., for Windows: Win+PrintScreen). See Preferences to change your hotkeys.

So if you are working on an Excel spreadsheet, for example, and would like to capture the information into Evernote, use the hotkey combination and select the portion of the screen you wish to save. The screenshot will go to your default Evernote location.

You can do the same with an email, a Word document, and anything else that appears on your screen.

5. Email Directly to Evernote Account

One of my favorite ways to feed Evernote is to email a document (e.g., Excel, Word, PDF) directly to Evernote; when you set up your Evernote account, you will be provided a private Evernote email address. Set this address up in your email contact list; then you can send any email or document (attached to an email) to your Evernote default notebook.

6. Drag and Drop

With Evernote open, you can create a new note and then drag a document (e.g., Word or Excel file) onto the open note. The material is added to the note. You can add multiple documents to one note.

7. Import Folder

An even easier way to get files into Evernote is to use an “import folder.” After you specify in Evernote where the “import folder” is located on your computer (i.e., a particular Windows folder), you can drop files into the designated folder, and they will automatically feed into your default Evernote notebook. (Note–Import folders are only available in Windows.)

What About You?

How do you feed Evernote? Are there other ways to feed Evernote that I have not mentioned?

Seven Deadly (Audit) Sins

Sometimes we sink our own ships

Seven deadly audit sins can destroy you.

You just completed an audit project, and you have another significant write-down. Last year’s audit hours came in well over budget, and at the time you thought, “This will not happen again.” But here it is–again.

Here are seven deadly (audit) sins that cause our engagements to fail.

Seven Deadly Audit Sins

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

1. We don’t plan.

Rolling over the prior year file does not qualify as planning. Including PPC programs–though I use them myself–is not planning.

What do I mean? The engagement has not been properly scoped. We don’t know what has changed and what is required. Each year, audits have new wrinkles.

Are there any fraud rumors? Has the CFO left without explanation? Have cash balances decreased while profits increased? Does the client have a new accounting program? Can you still obtain the reports you need? Are there any new audit or accounting standards?

Anticipate issues and be ready for them.

2. SALY lives.

Elvis may not be in the house, but SALY is.

Performing the same audit steps is wasteful. Just because we needed the action ten years ago does not mean we need it today. Kill SALY. (No, I don’t mean your staff member; SALY stands for Same As Last Year).

I find that audit files are like closets; we allow old thoughts (clothes) to accumulate without purging. It’s time for a Goodwill visit. Are all of the prior audit procedures relevant to this year’s engagement?

Will better planning require us to think more in the early phases of the engagement? Yes. Is this hard work? Yes. Will it result in less thinking and work (for the overall project)? Yes.

3. We use weak staff.

Staffing your engagement is the primary key to project success. Excellent staff makes a challenging engagement pan out well. Poor staff causes your engagement time to balloon–lots of motion, but few results.

4. We don’t monitor.

Partners must keep an eye on the project. And I don’t mean just asking, “how’s it going?” Look in the audit file. See what is going on. In-charges will usually tell you what you want to hear. Their hope is to save the job on the final play, but a Hail Mary pass often results in a lost game.

Charles’ maxim: That which is monitored, changes (for the good).

Or as Ronald Reagan once said: Trust but verify.

5. We use outdated technology.

Are you paperless? Using portable scanners and monitors? Are your auditors well versed in Adobe Acrobat? Are you electronically linking your trial balances to Excel documents? Do you use project management software (e.g., Basecamp)? How about conferencing software (e.g., Zoom)? Do you have secure remote access to audit files?

6. Staff (intentionally) hide problems.

Remind your staff that bad news communicated early is always welcome.

Early communication of bad news should be encouraged and rewarded (yes, rewarded, assuming the employee did not cause the problem).

Sometimes leaders unwittingly cause their staff to hide problems; in the past, we may have gone ballistic on them–now they fear the same.

7. No post-reviews.

Once our audit is complete, we should honestly assess the project. Then make a list of inefficiencies or failures for future reference.

If you are a partner, consider a fifteen-minute meeting with staff to go over the list.

Your Ideas

What do you do to keep your audits within budget?

A CPA’s Office Setup: Ways to Enhance Productivity

A peak into my office

Is a CPA’s office setup important? You bet.

Like you, I am constantly looking for ways to be more productive. I buy books, watch videos, and take note of how others work.

I like to see the offices of other CPAs. Here’s mine.

Multiple Monitors

Docking Station – I use a docking station that allows me to push one button to disconnect and place my laptop into a bag for travel. The docking station provides connectivity inputs behind my computer. Rather than disconnecting several wires to “set my computer free,” I push one button.

50″ Monitor (on a swivel hinge) – This monitor is about two feet behind my desk. I dock Outlook on the screen; this allows me to see incoming email at any moment. I also use this screen as a fourth working monitor. For example, when I am reviewing financial statements, I sometimes place the balance sheet on the 50″ screen and a second copy of the financial statements on my lower center monitor. Then as I review the remainder of the statements (e.g., notes), I can glance at the balance sheet.

The 50″ monitor hangs from a swivel hinge. The swivel hinge allows me to tilt the screen in other directions when I am sharing information from my laptop with others in my office. I am using this far more than I thought I would.

Todoist Checklist – I place all my outstanding to-do items in Todoist. Since Todoist integrates with Outlook, I usually have Outlook docked on the 50″ monitor. With just a glance, I can quickly see what I need to complete. With one click, I can add a new to-do item. And the to-do items I add on my laptop show up on my iPad and iPhone Todoist apps (and vice versa)–this integration is why I started using Todoist.

Logitech Camera – I often have online meetings and share information from my computer screen with those I am speaking with (I use Zoom). This Logitech camera creates an excellent picture and sound so those I’m sharing with can see and hear meLogitech C930e 960-000971 USB 2.0 1920 x 1080 Video Webcam

Bose Bluetooth Speaker – Music can make us more productive. And why not have quality sound? You spend such much of your waking day in your office. Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II (Carbon)

iPhone on a Stand – Do you ever lay your phone down and later you can’t find it? (We used just to lose our keys, now it’s the phone and the keys.) This stand provides me with a consistent place for my phone. elago M2 Stand for all iphones, Galaxy and Smartphones (Angled Support for FaceTime), Black

printer shot

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner – When I receive physical paper documents, my usual first step is to scan the paper and place it (the paper) in my shred box. I use this scanner several times a day. I like the scanner (but I have had problems with paper jams). Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005)

Deluxe Shred Box – My deluxe shred box is a box top. I know, sophisticated, huh?

Landline Phone – I keep my phone over on my side table to keep it off my main desktop.

HP Printer – Many CPAs use a central printer for several people but think about the cumulative time you waste walking to the printer. HP LaserJet P2035 Monochrome Printer (CE461A#ABA)

CPA's Office Setup

iPad – This is my favorite device. I use it mainly outside the office, but I place it on the corner of my desk so I can quickly pick it up as I go out.

The Physical Library – I order most publications electronically, but for my physical books, I keep them handy here.

Adjustable Standup Desk – In my attempt to be a (little) more healthy, I bought this standup desk about three years ago. About once a day, I will print and stand while I review a set of financial statements–mainly to get my rear out of the chair. There has been a great deal of press lately about professionals (slowly) killing themselves by sitting too much. This desk does adjust down to the level of my main desktop, and it is mobile, so I use it–when I’m tired of standing–as an extension of my main desktop.

Paper-in Tray – I use a three-level tray for my incoming paper. The top shelf is for newly arrived paper information.

conference space

Corner Meeting Spot –  I use this corner area as a place to meet with partners and staff, especially if they bring paper copies in to discuss.

Coffee Maker – This is probably the most important appliance in my office. No coffee, no Charles.

whiteboard

Whiteboard – If someone needs to draw an idea out, here’s the place. I sometimes take iPhone pictures of the information drawn on the board and then store it in Evernote.

Watercooler – Drinking plenty of water each day will enhance your stamina. As you can tell, I like convenience.

Your Ideas

How would you change my office? What additional ideas would you add to these?

New SSARS 21 Book

My new SSARS 21 book titled Preparation of Financial Statements and Compilation Engagements is now available on Amazon.com. The book provides information about the new preparation of financial statements standard and compilation engagements. The book includes sample engagement letters and financial statements using the preparation and compilation guidance.

Using Post-it Note Stickies While Reviewing Financial Statements

Most of the time I review financial statements from my computer screen, but sometimes (true confession time) I print them and make review notes with a pen.

In doing so, I used to have a problem with my Post-it notes (until I started using the tip below).

If you print your financial statements and then review them, you might do the following:

  • Pencil in changes
  • Attach yellow Post-it note stickies to pages with changes (so you will know what pages need changing)
  • Remove the pages with the yellow Post-it note stickies
  • Scan the pages with changes so they can be emailed to staff (for changes to be made)

Scan Tip

Tip: When you attach a Post-it note sticky to a page, place the Post-it note sticky at the bottom of the page so it is pointed vertically; then you can scan the pages with the stickies still attached. Don’t point the Post-it notes out horizontally and your scanner will jam. Now you won’t need to remove the Post-it notes in order to scan (and if you place these pages back into the original printed financial statements, you will know what pages need changes).

wrong

From Skitch (003)

 

My Most-Used iPad Apps

Here are the apps from my main iPad screen

My iPad allows me to add plenty of apps, but only a few are on my main screen. Here is my present screen.

My main iPad screen

My main iPad screen

 

Skitch – A screen capture app. It allows me to capture whatever is on my screen and edit what I capture. I can add annotations such as arrows, boxes, and text.

Digits – A calculator with big numbers. The app allows me to maintain a running tape of the numbers I have keyed in; this tape can be emailed to others. I can also type text next to a particular number.

Checkpoint – A library of accounting and auditing publications. You must pay for the publications, but Checkpoint provides powerful search capabilities.

Keynote – A slide presentation app. I use Keynote more than Powerpoint. The Keynote background slides are the best. Presentations can be saved to iCloud.

Twitter – A social communication tool. I use it to make short (less than 140 character) posts about my day, usually related to accounting and auditing. My handle: @ChasBHall.

Pandora – Music app. I can pick a channel and listen to whatever type of music I desire. There is a free version, but I pay around $5 per month for the add-free version.

Weather – Weather app. I start my day by checking the weather, and, when I’m going out of town, I check my destination’s weather before I leave.

Gmail – Email app. I use this app for most of my email.

Slack – Group email app. I use this app to communicate with my teams. I mainly use this app to chat with my Quality Control team member. The communications are stored by category (and I can set up whatever categories I like — e.g., XYZ Audit). The basic package that I use is free.

Kindle – Amazon’s book reading app. I buy most of my books from Amazon and read them here. I can highlight phrases in my books that are accessible in my Amazon account–and the highlighted information–for all my books–is searchable and can be copied and pasted.

Holy Bible – You Version Bible app. I start each day with this app. You Version is free and provides several different translations.

Evernote – Storage app. I create “notes” inside Evernote and store whatever I desire. This is my electronic library. I have saved thousands of articles and research. Several different tags can be applied to each note, so you can quickly find the information you need.

1Password – Password storage app. I store almost all of my passwords here (presently over 150). Security experts tell us to use strong, unique passwords. This app allows me to do so.

Reminders – Reminder app. I may need this app the most (especially as I get older). I place to-do items here with time and date–a notification pops up when it’s time to act.

Basecamp – Project management app. I can see all of my current projects with all the steps necessary to complete each one. I can see what my project management teams (e.g., audit teams) have completed.

Stitcher – Podcast app. I listen to podcasts as I walk each morning, gaining valuable insights. My favorite podcast: Michael Hyatt’s This is Your Life.

Audible – Audible book app. I listen to books while I’m on the road (or when I am exercising). I have a monthly plan (about $15 per month) that allows me to get one book per month.

GetResponse – Social media contact app. GetResponse is a paid app that allows me to see who has subscribed to my blog. It also provides statistical information about responses to my weekly RSS emails that I send to my blog subscribers. Subscribe below.

Zoom – Online meeting app. I can host online meetings and share information from my screen. Those in the meeting can see me as I talk with them.

Canva – Social media creation app. I use this app to create pictures and slides for sharing in my blog or presentations. I pay about $1 for each picture download, but this is a powerful app that allows your creative side to shine.

Your Thoughts?

What apps do you find most helpful?

How to Start a Blog

Three years ago I knew nothing about blogging

From time to time I have readers ask me how to start a blog or how I started mine.

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

I recently responded to a reader. Here’s that email (almost unedited, so it may be a little rough around the edges):

Dear Mary,

I have been blogging for about three years. I am not “expert,” but here are some thoughts. (You may already know all or some of what I will share.)

Use WordPress

You’ll need to get a blog hosting service. I use Host Gator (but there are several good ones).

I used an ebook from Amazon to guide me through the steps of setting up my blog: it’s called 30 Minutes to a WordPress Website. http://www.amazon.com/Minutes-Wordpress-Website-Step—Step-ebook/dp/B007KSK0KU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436192256&sr=8-1&keywords=30+minutes+to+a+wordpress+website&pebp=1436192268240&perid=10305WX53RN06ZTYKSZ1

The book is just a $1 I think. Step by step instructions.

You might also check out Michael Hyatt’s post: http://michaelhyatt.com/ez-wordpress-setup.html  (He is the king of blogging/podcasting in my opinion and a really nice guy.)

Listen to Michael Hyatt’s Podcast: This is Your Life

I get plenty of good (free) ideas from listening to Michael’s podcast.

http://michaelhyatt.com/thisisyourlife

Pick a Nice Looking WordPress Theme 

There are plenty of nice looking free WordPress themes (I believe you get those when you download WordPress).

I use GetNoticed (as my WordPress theme); it is about $200. http://getnoticedtheme.com/

Pick Your Interval for Posting

Your audience wants consistency, so if you can post at least once a week, that will be good. I try (but am not always successful).

Blogging Takes Longer Than I Anticipated

I had no idea how much time blogging would take, but it is substantial—usually at least five hours per week for me (and I do most of this at night). Even 500-word posts can take several hours. You may be able to do this much quicker than I.

Use Pictures

I purchase my pictures from dollarphotoclub.com; they are $1 each. They have a good selection. You will need to give attribution for each picture; I usually just put “Picture is courtesy of dollarphotoclub.com.” https://www.dollarphotoclub.com/?reqp=1&reqr=

Readers love eye-candy. Video is even better (but that takes a great deal of time). You can embed videos into your posts. You will see an example on my sidebar at cpa-scribo.com. I shoot these with my camera at home. The cost for the camera, lights, microphone, etc. is about $1,500.

Traction Takes Time

It took, for me, about two years of posting to see any real traction. I now have about 300 to 400 visitors a day.

Stay Practical 

Readers want practical information that they can implement. CPAs love information that is useful (and free).

Build an Email List

Each person who subscribes to my blog provides me with their email address. 

You can build an email list by using GetResponse, AWebber, Mailchimp (and there are many more). I use GetResponse (which has a nominal cost but has more advanced features than MailChimp, which is free).

I offer free magnets (e.g., an ebook about fraud prevention) in exchange for the subscribers email address. Then I use my RSS feed to trigger weekly emails to my subscribers (providing them with all the new information I have posted). I can email those subscribers at any time (but I generally don’t do so unless I’ve got something really important to communicate—I try to keep my communications to a minimum—once a week). 

The Main Benefit

Trust.

Readers come to know you as a person. I have built relationships through my blogging. People see that I am here for them.

Closing Thoughts

I started my blog as an effort to share what I’ve learned through the years and just to have the opportunity to become a better writer. I love blogging and am now considering a podcast.

Charles Hall

Closing Comment

If you are interested in blogging, I hope you will start one. If you have any questions, please post them here, and I will try to assist.

How to Find Sample 5500s and Audit Reports

CPAs love example tax returns and reports

Do you need to see sample 5500s or benefit plan audit reports?

You can find them here.

The DOL search screen appears below:

DOL Search

Searching for “Chicago Academy” results in the following:

DOL results

Filings for plan years prior to 2009 are not displayed on this website. Many benefit plans are not required to have an audit (you will not see an audit report for those plans).

 

3 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.

Using the three tips below, you’ll do just that.

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.