Accountants use all types of electronic devices and software: Caseware, Excel, scanners, Powerpoint, Adobe Acrobat, monitors, QuickBooks, iPhones—just to name a few. For me, the iPad tops them all.
I purchased my first iPad about six years ago for about $500. Then, four years ago, I bought a second one. A year ago I picked up my third. Now, having spent hundreds of hours on iPads, I am smitten.
You may be thinking, “Charles, you’re a CPA. How do you and why do you spend that much time on an iPad? Don’t you primarily use a desktop computer?” Yes, my work computer is my primary tool. But in terms of enjoyment, the iPad wins hands down.
In this post, I explain how you can use Fences software to organize your computer desktop.
Most accountants like organization, yet I often see totalchaos on computer monitors.
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 the Fences software 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 Software YouTube Video
Here’s a video that provides additional information about the Fences software:
My Experience with Fences Software
I’ve used Fences for about ten years and have found it useful. I recommend it.
Other Office Suggestions
For helpful ideas in setting up your physical office, click here.
An online CPA meeting can save time. At least, they can if you know how. In this article, I provide examples of online CPA meetings and online software that you can use.
Are you tired of driving hours to see clients? Or maybe you drive two hours to meet with a customer and realize you left files on your office computer. Online meetings solve these problems and make you more accessible. Below I show you how to get started.
Pick an Online Meeting Solution
First, you need to choose a video conferencing solution.
Here is a PC Magazine article that compares these products (and others). All of these packages offer free trial versions. And they all provide similar abilities. The main thing is they allow me to share what’s on my computer monitor and my voice.
So, what video conferencing software do I use? Zoom. Why? It is easy to use and reliable. While Zoom offers a free version, I use their paid Pro version.
The point of this article is not to sell you on a particular online meeting product (though I do like Zoom), but to sell you on the concept. I have spent years of my life (at least it feels that way) driving to and from clients’ offices. So when I heard about online meetings, I gave it a try.
My First Online Meeting
My first online meeting sold me. A few years ago I was assisting an attorney with a forensic project. My final report was several hundred pages long. Rather than making a 4.5-hour trip to meet with my client, I did the following:
Opened the draft report on my center computer screen
Opened supporting documents on my two side computer screens
Shared my center computer screen using my online meeting software—the attorney, once he clicked the link I emailed him (see the next bullet), could see my screen
Sent the attorney an email (with a hyperlink) to join the meeting—my online software automatically created the email as I invited him
Called the attorney with my cell phone and went hands-free so I could use my mouse (you can use your computer audio, I just prefer using my phone)
When the attorney answered my call, I told him I had sent him an invitation email, and I walked him through connecting (which took less than two minutes)
We reviewed the draft report from my center computer screen
When needed, I moved supporting documents from my two side screens to the center display (and then moved them off as needed)—think of this as moving information on and off stage
The meeting lasted one hour. Once done, the attorney said to me, “This is one of the best meetings I’ve ever attended.”
So rather than taking 5.5 hours (4.5 hours of driving and the 1-hour session), the meeting took 1.5 hours (including setup time). I saved four hours—and I didn’t even have to sit in the attorney’s lobby and wait for him. Also, I didn’t have to stop and refuel my vehicle—or file an expense report.
If sharing video works with an out-of-town client, does it work with in-the-office staff?
CPA Meeting Online
Yes, an online CPA meeting works with others in your office as well. Why? For the same reasons. I can share any information from my computer screen. And I can invite several people to the meeting at the same time. They can view what I am sharing from the comfort of their offices. Believe me, it’s better than several people huddling around one computer.
Other Online Meeting Thoughts
Here are some additional thoughts about online CPA meetings.
Though I don’t do so often, I can record my online meetings in Zoom. Then if I need to watch the session, I can.
Once you are in a Zoom meeting you can share your mouse. This allows your client to control your computer. I find this useful when my client wants to show me something. Rather than the client telling me where to click, I simply hand the mouse control over to her. Then she can move around in the documents we are viewing.
Are there any downsides to online meetings? Yes. Some people don’t want to be seen. Perhaps they are working from home and are still in their pajamas. If they have their camera on, you will see them, and if your camera is on, guess what? Yep. They can see you. You can, however, turn your camera off. And they can as well.
For a more professional look, consider buying a video camera. I use a Logitech 930e (cost is $71.50). It sits on top of my right monitor. Why buy a camera? For higher quality video. Additionally, the camera has a microphone. If you’re wondering about the quality of the video from this device, see the recording above. I used the Logitech 930e for that one.
Sharing Video with a Client
What if your client is too busy for an online meeting? Record a video and share it. I can do so from Zoom, but I use Camtasia to record my videos. (A single license is $249.)
Say you need to explain the details in a lease document. And you want to show and explain the related journal entries. Turn Camtasia on and shoot the recording with your Logitech camera. Whatever appears on your monitor (e.g., lease agreement in a PDF; journal entries in Excel) is captured in the video. Once done, save the video and send a link to your client. And why do this? So your client can watch the presentation at her convenience.
Don’t want to be seen on video? Then turn it off. Camtasia provides that option. You can record what you present on your monitor and your voice narration–with no video.
I store my videos on Screencast. The cost is $99.95 per year.
You may wonder why I use Camtasia and Screencast, especially when I can record and store video with Zoom. The short answer is I create training videos. Camstasia gives me better editing capabilities. And Screencast was built for the purpose of sharing videos. So the two products (both made by TechSmith) work well together for the creation and sharing of video.
Sharing Video with Your CPA Firm Members
I create and share videos with my partners and staff. Once a video is created, I store it on my Screencast site. Then I share the video link on our firm intranet. That way I can demonstrate something once and share it with everyone.
Do you already use online meeting or video capture software? If yes, what solutions do you use? Share your suggestions below.
In this article, I tell you how to build an accountant’s scanning system.
Are you overwhelmed by stacks of paper? Do you find it difficult to locate the 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:
Buy a scanner
Build a scanning structure
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, 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.
The iX1500costs $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:
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.
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:
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 Done—one of the best productivity books you’ll find.)
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:
Here are ten super easy ways to increase your productivity.
10 Ways to Become an Efficient CPA
1. Use 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. Dispatch 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.
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 to become a more efficient CPA is to take breaks and naps.
Counterintuitive? Yes, but it works.
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? 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.
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. Doing so will make you a more efficient CPA.