Category Archives for "Technology"

efficient CPA
Mar 17

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

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Technology

Do you want to be an efficient 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 could 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, the referenced professional standards, 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.

Livescribe
Jun 26

Livescribe: Note Taking Magic (for CPAs)

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Technology

Livescribe: Note taking magic. Here’s an overview of how auditors are making their lives easier using the Livescribe pen.

Have you ever interviewed a client, feverishly taking notes, and straight away forgot critical facts? You wish you had a recording of the conversation. Better yet, you wish you could touch a particular word in your notes and hear the words that were being spoken at that moment. What if I told you, “you can”?

Livescribe: Note taking magic

How? Livescribe.

Think about what you could record with such a tool:

  • CPE class lectures
  • Walkthroughs of transaction cycles
  • Board or committee or partnership meetings
  • Fraud interviews

Livescribe: Note Taking Magic

What is Livescribe? It’s an electronic pen/recorder. As you write on special coded paper, you simultaneously record the conversation (the recorder is built into the pen). Once done, you touch a particular letter in a word (with the tip of your pen) and you hear–from the pen–the words spoken at that moment. No more forgetting and not being able to retrieve what was said. And it’s efficient since you can go to any particular part of the conversation using your notes as signposts.

To start a recording, you press the tip of the pen to the “record” icon at the bottom of the page.

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To stop the recording you press the “stop” icon above.

Once the recording is complete, you simply touch the tip of the pen to any letter and the audio recording will start playing–from the pen–at that point.

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You can upload the pen notes and the audio to your computer desktop Livescribe software using a USB cord that connects to the pen. (See below.)

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You can also play back notes from your uploaded desktop copy just as you can with your pen. Click a letter with your mouse and the recording will play.

I was surprised by the clarity of the sound from the pen and the audio capacity200 hours (for the Echo version that you see below).

There are different versions of the pen. I bought the Echo version due to the lower price. You can review the available pens on Amazon. I also bought additional Livescribe notebooks (they come in packs of four) and a portfolio (binder) to hold the notebook and pen.

My Experience with Livescribe

I have used a Livescribe pen for four years. After using to it to record hundreds of hours of audio, I consider my Livescribe pen to be one of my best audit tools. I recommend it.

What if you don’t desire to shell out the $155 for the pen? Consider using the Notability app. 

Another Option 

If you have an iPad, you can buy the Notability app for $9.99 and record conversations with your notes (with play-back similar to Livescribe). You will need a stylus (I use an Apple pen) to take notes since you write on your iPad screen. See my article about using Notability.

One More Thought

If you are performing a walkthrough of a complex transaction cycle, consider using your phone to take pictures of what you are seeing (e.g., computer screens, documents). I use the Scanbot app. Between your notes (with audio) and your pictures, you will have a good understanding of what you have seen and heard.

You might also be interested in my article Four Keys to Better Client Interviews.

The Exciting (and Scary) Future Changes in Accounting
May 21

The Exciting (and Scary) Future Changes in Accounting

By Charles Hall | Technology

Are you ready for the exciting (and scary) future changes in accounting?

I have spent the last two days talking to and listening to CPAs talk about the coming changes in accounting and auditing. What’s the cause of the changes? In a word: Technology.

The Exciting (and Scary) Future Changes in Accounting

The Coming Changes in Public Accounting

Specifically, we will see changes from artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, and audit tools. The big four have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars in developing (and embracing) these technologies.

The expectation, so I am hearing, is for CPA firms to reduce the employment of traditional positions (e.g., auditing and tax) and increase the use of other disciplines (e.g., data analytics, leveraging AI and other technologies).

When these changes occur (and yes, I believe they are coming), CPAs can get hurt. Or we can embrace the changes and continue to be profitable. Ignoring these dynamics (or saying they are overstated) will—I believe—leave one blind-sided. 

Could I be wrong? Well, yes. And it would not be the first time. But based on what I am reading and hearing, it appears we will see more change in the next five years than we have in the last twenty-five (that’s a pure guess).

Examples of Emerging Accounting and Audit Software

Firms will need to make investments in emerging technologies and new software products such as Onpoint (a compilation and review product developed by the AICPA and CaseWare).

One platform, Mindbridge, offers audit technology with artificial intelligence. (Mindbridge works with standard accounting software packages such as QuickBooks and Intaact.)

An interesting platform for bookkeeping is AutoEntry. This package automates the entry of information into QuickBooks (it works with the online and desktop versions). Hector Garcia provides a nice YouTube video demonstrating how this software works.

Onpoint, Mindbridge, and AutoEntry are examples of technologies that will transform accounting as we know it. Anybody feel like we’re watching the accounting version of the Jetsons?

Advisory Services: An Opportunity

Interestingly, one of the fastest growing areas in public accounting is advisory services. So, smaller CPA firms should expect more demand from bookkeeping clients in terms of providing business advice: strategic planning, how and when to borrow money, where to invest excess funds, etc. This makes sense. The newer technologies are providing accountants with more time. And with that time, we can become better advisors.

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