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.
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.
Here’s a video that provides additional information:
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.
Evernote is a game-changer for CPAs.
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.
Here are examples of what you can do with Evernote:
The skeletal framework for Evernote has three elements: 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.
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.
In this two minute video, I demonstrate the use of notebooks and notes inside of my Evernote 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:
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.
Those are my ideas. What are yours?
Are you a CPA looking for ways to increase your productivity?
Here are ten suggestions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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:
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.
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.
Another idea: Go to lunch at 11:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. Why stand in line?
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.
Here are my top ten technology tips in no certain order (with links to prior blog posts).
Those are my ideas. What are yours?
Also, here are Eight Ways to Increase Your Efficiency and Productivity as a CPA.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Advantages of Slack include the following:
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.
Today I offer eight ways to increase your efficiency as a CPA?
Suppose you have a magic wand that allows you to change one thing in your CPA firm. What will it be? The poll response is “Get work done more efficiently.” This response is almost twice as high as “Make more money.”
So how can you be more efficient?
Here are eight ways to be more efficient:
Have you noticed that great employees overcome problems, even the thorniest ones? They don’t make excuses. They simply get work done. And these gems get work done in less time. Hiring the right people is your most significant action.
Starting and stopping. Starting and Stopping. Starting and Stopping. A sure recipe for inefficiency. Plan your employees’ work so that they can stay on one job until complete. Momentum is everything. Reward employees when they meet deadlines (and tell them ahead of time that the “thank you” is coming).
Too often we try to multitask, but the research shows that we can only perform one action at a time. Clear everything from your desk but the immediate task. Then focus on that one thing. Turn off social media and the phone. Answer emails in batches at predetermined times during the day, but no more than four times a day.
Taking breaks increases your efficiency. This is counterintuitive but true. Recovery is essential to productivity.
The human brain is not designed to work endlessly without diversion. Use the Pomodoro technique or some other method, but take periodic short breaks–at least one an hour. If you are a partner, tell your team members that you desire for them to take breaks. Your employees will follow your example.
What does an open door communicate? “Come on in.” What does a cracked door communicate? “You may come in but knock.” What does a closed door communicate? “Please do not come in.” An open door is an invitation to interruptions.
If you are someone that employees need to visit often, then establish an open door policy for specific times of the day.
When you know you will need certain knowledge in the future, take a CPE class so you have the answers before they are needed. You’ve got to take CPE anyway, so why not take classes that provide timely information.
Finding answers quickly is a key to efficiency–and we all have questions. Spend the money to have online access to research material in the areas that you practice. I know this is more difficult for small firms, but without sound answers, we are walking in the dark.
Also, archive your research in the cloud. Doing so will, over time, enable you to build a powerful library of questions and answers. For four years, I have stored my research in Evernote. So when I encounter issues, I often remember that I previously researched the issue. And I know the answer is in my Evernote library.
How much time do you spend waiting on your computer to respond to your most recent request? Those seconds–and sometimes minutes–are wasted time. Buy computers with as much speed as you can afford. This is not a place to be penny foolish.
Multiple monitors will make you more efficient. (I use four.) Larger monitors will make you even more efficient.
Keep a scanner next to your desk. I use my Scansnap scanner several times a day. Scanning enables me to keep my desk and office more orderly. Also, scanning into a PDF can make the documents searchable if you use optical character recognition (OCR). Once searchable, then just type control f for find and then type in the words you are looking for.
What about you? What do you do to increase efficiency?
Check out my previous efficiency post.