Category Archives for "Technology"

accountant's scanning system
Aug 27

Accountant’s Scanning System: How to Build

By Charles Hall | Technology

Are you overwhelmed by stacks of paper? Do you find it difficult to locate information you know you have? Today, I teach you how to build an accountant’s scanning system.

accountant's scanning system

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

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. (There is a newer model now, the iX1500.) 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, but it doesn’t happen. Then the paper litters your desk–and distracts you.

accountant's scanning system

Picture of my office

The iX1500 costs $420, so it’s not a huge cash outlay. The scanner’s footprint is small (the dimensions are 11.5 x 6 x 6.3 inches) and it weighs 7.5 pounds. Also, the scanner comes with  software (ScanSnap) that offers you destinations such as these:

accountant's scanning system

ScanSnap File Locations

I often scan to Evernote, my cloud-based library. (Amazon also offers Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 Document Scanner with Evernote Premium.) If I were buying my first scanner and didn’t have cloud-based storage, this would be my choice.

Another favorite destination: Caseware, our paperless engagement software. 

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? 

  • Ease of use 
  • 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 keywords–even if written)
  • Accessibility (I can access Evernote from my iPhone, iPad, and desktop)
  • Cost (paid version starts at $7.99 per month; 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 audit and tax services are 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. (Some of the above thoughts come from David Allen’s book: Getting Things Doneone of the best productivity books you’ll find.)

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.

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

iPad Apps for CPAs
Jun 17

iPad Apps for CPAs: The Tried and True

By Charles Hall | Technology

Here is a list of iPad apps for CPAs. You’ll find each one helpful in your daily work.

iPad Apps for CPAs

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

Notability – The best app I’ve found for taking notes. You can also record audio as you take notes and then quickly return to a specific part of the conversation by touching a written word with your iPad Pencil. I use this almost daily.

OmniFocusA high-end to-do list. It provides contextual listings, including a hotlist (to help me remember the most important things). You can add, for instance, a to-do item for a particular client or a trip to the hardware store. This app takes some time to understand, but very powerful. Consider taking David Sparks online OmniFocus class. I found it helpful.

Box – A secure file storage system in the cloud. Very powerful. I started using Box about six months ago. There’s a learning curve, but it’s worth it. It’s pricey. I use this storage system for business files.

Dropbox – Cheaper than Box. A cloud-based storage system in the cloud. Dropbox is easy to use. I tend to use Dropbox for personal data. Dropbox seems to integrate more easily with other apps than Box does. I store large video or audio files here (rather than Evernote). This app feels like a large electronic sandbox.

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

Keynote – A slide presentation app. I use Keynote more than Powerpoint. The Keynote background slides are the best. I find it easier to create slide decks with my iPad than with my desktop.

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.

Outlook – Email app. I tried Gmail for a while but returned to Outlook. It’s just easier to use. And it integrates with Office 365.

Scanbot – I take pictures of multiple pages, and the scan automatically loads to a specified Box folder.

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

Explain Everything – Want your clients to see what you are drawing while you are online with them? Pull up a PDF and write on it with your iPad Pencil. Instantly your client sees what you are doing. Record the presentation (including sound) and store it. Then share the conversation with anyone. Crazy. 

Audible – Audible book app. I listen to books while I’m on the road (or when I am exercising). 

iThoughts – Want to brainstorm visually? iThoughts is your app. Create color-coded maps of your ideas. Watch their video example here

Pocket – An easy-to-use use app to capture internet articles as you see them. Don’t have time to read an article? Save the piece with Pocket with one click. The app shares the captured articles across platforms.

Documents – Write on PDFs or annotate them in other ways (like adding a red box to highlight an area). I don’t take paper copies of agendas or additional information to meetings. They are all here in Documents. It’s a great file manager that connects to file storage systems such as Dropbox. Documents works with all types of files, including Excel, Adobe Acrobat, Word, video files, images. 

Apple Pencil – While not an app, consider using an Apple Pencil. Mine cost about $100. I use it daily to write on electronic documents. See my demonstration here. (If you’ve tried other styluses and they’ve not worked. Try this one. I had almost given up on electronic writing instruments. Then the Apple Pencil came along.)

Your Thoughts?

What apps do you find most helpful?

efficient CPA
Mar 17

The Efficient CPA: 10 Super Easy Ways to Increase Your Productivity

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Technology

Are you missing out on opportunities to be even more efficient as a CPA?

Here are ten super easy ways to increase your productivity.

super easy ways to increase productivity

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 using 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; 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 sure don’t. Livescribe allows me to take notes and simultaneously record the conversation. Then I can hear any part of the discussion. For example, if–in a meeting–I 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 at that moment. The recording plays back through my Livescribe pen. That way, I don’t have to call and ask, “What did you say about intangible amortization?”

If you have an iPad, a cheaper alternative to Livescribe is Notability

6. Take Breaks and Naps

Another idea is to take breaks and naps.

Counterintuitive? Yes, but it works.

Breaks

I come from the old school of “don’t lift your head 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

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. 

See my article Text, Email or Call: Which is Best?

8. Exercise

I run (by myself) or walk (with my wife) six days 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.

Your Ideas?

These are my thoughts. Please share yours.

text, email or call
Mar 10

Text, Email, or Call: Which is Best?

By Charles Hall | Technology

A CPA called me today and left a message with a question. My first thought was to call him. I knew if I phoned, one of the following would happen:

  1. No answer and we’d play phone tag.
  2. He’d answer, and we would talk about other things.
  3. He’d answer, and I would respond to his question.

The first two possibilities are not good (if you are busy like I am–and I know you are).

My next thought: I will text him. I did, and it took about 30 seconds.

With the options to text, email, or call, which is best? Let’s see.

I like to think of the choices as a sprint, a run, or a walk.

text, email or call

Text – A Sprint

If a client or firm member text me, I will text back–as long as:

  • The response is short and
  • The answer does not contain sensitive information

Why not just email or call?

In the middle of busy season, I’m looking for every moment I can save. Many times a text answers the question–and I can do so promptly (this is better than not responding at all because I’m too busy).

Email – A Run

When is an email the better option?

Mainly when you need to send attachments. Emails take longer than texts but seem to work better–at least for me–when more than one or two short answers are necessary.

If you are emailing sensitive information, consider using a secure method such as ShareFile. ShareFile offers an Outlook add-in that makes the transfer seamless.

Call – A Walk

I call when the message is essential or lengthy.

We lose something in electronic communications. Our tone of voice and inflections say a great deal. Phone calls usually take longer than a text or an email but may be warranted if the issue is important.

If my communication is lengthy (say more than three points), I usually opt for a phone call. If you are providing accounting, tax, or auditing advice, consider whether you need to document the phone conversation in a memo. I sometimes use a form (that I keep in Evernote) for this purpose. What does it address? The discussion, professional standards referenced, the advice given, who I talked with, and the date. 

Summary

Sprint, run or walk. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of your choice, it’s all about communicating clearly and timely

Check out my post An Auditor’s Cell Phone.

Adding a blank page to a PDF
Jan 10

How to Add a Blank Page to a PDF

By Charles Hall | Technology

Sometimes you may need to add a blank page to a PDF document. For instance, you might desire to add a summary audit memo explaining your use of the information that follows. Once you add a blank page, you can then type your summary on the new page.

Here’s a video demonstration of how to add a bank a page to a PDF document using Adobe Acrobat DC.

1 2 3 6
>