Category Archives for "Technology"

Eight ways to increase your efficiency
Nov 16

Eight Ways to Increase Your Efficiency and Productivity as a CPA

By Charles Hall | Technology

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?

Eight Ways to Increase Your Efficiency as a CPA

Here are eight ways to be more efficient:

  1. Hire great employees
  2. Stay on one job and finish it
  3. Work on one project at a time
  4. Take breaks
  5. Close your door
  6. Take CPE before you need it
  7. Maintain a robust research library
  8. Buy top-quality computers, monitors, and scanners

1. Hire Great Employees

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.

2. Stay on One Job

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).

3. Work on One Project at a Time

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.

4. Take Breaks

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.

Eight ways to increase your efficiency

5. Close Your Door

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.

6. Take CPE Before You Need It

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.

7. Maintain a Robust Research Library

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.

Joining the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) has been helpful to my firm. The CPEA provides timely summaries of new standards, enabling me to digest the constant flood of new standards.

8. Buy Top-Quality Computers, Monitors, and Scanners

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.

Other Ideas

What about you? What do you do to increase efficiency?

Check out my previous efficiency post.

Accountant's iPad
Nov 02

Getting More Done with My Favorite Accountant’s Device

By Charles Hall | Technology

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.

Accountant's iPad

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. 

Ways I Use My iPad

“How do you use it?” you say. Here are few ways:

Convenience and Portability

Mostly, I use my iPad at home, seated on my couch. The portability of the device is its primary benefit. It’s large enough to read from and work on—and small enough to take wherever I go.

Your Favorite Device

So what’s your favorite tool and how do you use it?

Sep 19

How Accountants Can Save Time with Online Meetings

By Charles Hall | Technology

Are you tired of driving hours to see clients? Do you find it awkward to share information from your laptop? Or maybe you drive two hours to meet with a customer and–after arriving–realize you need additional information (but it’s back at your office). Online meetings solve these problems.

Accountant's Online Meetings

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Pick an Online Meeting Solution

First, you need to choose a video conferencing solution. Some popular alternatives include:

Here is a PC Magazine article that compares many of these products. All of the video conferencing packages offer free versions for testing. After using four different online meeting products, I found they provide similar abilities–the sharing of my computer screen and audio features.

What video conferencing software do I use? Zoom. It is easy to use and reliable. Here’s a summary of plan options, and yes, the free version works well.

The point of this article is not to sell you on a particular online meeting product, but to sell you on the concept. I have spent years of my life (at least it feels that way) driving to and from client’s 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. The supporting files (not included in the report) were also voluminous. Rather than making a 4.5-hour trip, I did the following:

  • Opened the draft report on my center computer screen
  • Opened supporting documents on my two side computer screens
  • Shared my screen center computer screen using my online meeting software—the attorney, once he clicked the link in the next bullet, could see the information
  • Sent the attorney an email (with a hyperlink) to join the meeting—my online software automatically creates the email (which can be amended)
  • Called the attorney with my cell phone and went hands-free so I could use my mouse (you can use audio in your online software, 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.” 

Saving Four Hours

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, and I didn’t have to file an expense report.

Online Conferencing in My Office

Since that first online meeting, I realized that it’s more efficient for me to do the same with my firm personnel. So am I saying I have online meetings with people in my office? Yes. Why? It takes less time—and again, I have access to any file I need. Additionally, we are not crowded around one small computer screen, trying to see everything. (Note: We have 120 people located on three floors.)

Other Thoughts

Though I don’t often do so, you can backup your online meetings. Then if you need to refer back to the session, you can watch the video.

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 they will see you. So be mindful of this dynamic. (You can turn your camera off, and they can as well.)

For a more professional look, consider buying a video camera. I use a Logitech device. Why? Laptop cameras (those built into your computer) often project grainy pictures.

Stay Tuned for Video Example

I’ll soon share a video of how I set up and conduct online meetings. So stay tuned.

Do you already use online meeting software? If yes, what solution do you use? What video conferencing suggestions do you offer?

auditor's cell phone
Sep 17

An Auditor’s Cell Phone

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Technology

A cell phone is an auditor’s Swiss knife. And with all the options, I am continually looking for another way to use mine. So I’m sharing my ideas with the hope that you will likewise share yours. While I use an iPhone, I realize there are plenty of other nifty cell phones; my comments below are directed not at a particular phone but how I use mine as an auditor.

Below you will see a screenshot of my cell phone home screen and information concerning how I use various apps.

Auditor's Cell Phone

An Auditor’s Cell Phone

 

Camera

I use this iPhone app to capture pictures of documents as I perform internal control walkthroughs. I embed these pictures in my walkthrough documentation. A picture says a thousand words. If the person explaining the accounting system creates pictures on a whiteboard, I take photos of the drawings.

Sometimes I need a copy of a page from a hardback book (e.g., research); rather than using the copy machine, I take a picture of the page and email it.

Keynote

Keynote is Apple’s version of Powerpoint. I build the Keynote slide deck for presentations and use my phone to present. If you use iCloud, the slide deck you create on your iPad will automatically appear on your iPhone (if your settings are right).

You can also present a Keynote slide deck using your iPad as the presentation device and your iPhone as a remote. Your iPhone moves the slides of the iPad slide deck as you stand at a distance. Both devices (iPad and iPhone) must be on the same wifi for the remote feature to work.

Kindle

I buy most of my books using the one-click option in Amazon. Most books are 50% less in price (or more) than physical books. You can highlight books you read and then create a summary of those highlights (which I then place in my searchable Evernote account–see below); you can copy and paste these highlights to Word or other software.

If I am waiting on a plane, taxi, a friend, a doctor, etc., I have all my books handy for reading. You can even purchase my fraud prevention or SSARS 21 books (shameless advertising, yes I’m guilty).

Evernote

I love Evernote! It is my cloud storage, and at $70 per year for the premium version, it provides me with tremendous power. All the research I have performed and stored is available everywhere I go. All the articles I have saved are at my fingertips. (And it is so easy to store information in this application.) At present, I have thousands of screenshots, websites, articles, presentations, conversations, books, pictures, and answered research issues. It’s my knowledge library.

You can use this app to record conversations that are automatically loaded into Evernote.

Dropbox

I also use Dropbox to store some documents. Most apps connect well with Dropbox, and it handles large video or audio files well.

1Password

I save all my passwords in 1Password. No more wondering how I’m going to get into my computer with a password I’ve forgotten–again (I know this never happens to you).

Messages

I text my audit team members to see how things are going. Messaging is much more efficient than calling if the communication is short. (You can also take a picture of anything with Camera and message the picture. If your audit team member needs to see something on your computer screen, take a picture of it and message the shot to them with comments.)

Don’t want to type the message? Just say it out loud, and the app will record your words for sending.

Maps

I use Google maps to get to new audit locations.

Weather

I use the Weather Channel’s app to check the weather before I leave for trips so I can dress appropriately.

Pandora

Mozart or U2 makes my audit day go by much better. If you prefer music without ads, you can pay Pandora for the service. 

Sharefile

Sharefile is my go-to app for sending sensitive client data. With hackers everywhere, I don’t risk sending sensitive client data in emails.

Fantastical

My Fantastical calendar app syncs with my Outlook calendar, so regardless of where I am, I can check my appointments and schedule the same. I can also add reminders in Fantastical, so I don’t forget the milk.

ToDoist

Do I keep a to-do list? Yes, in my ToDoist app. This app integrates with Outlook.

Audible

When I am driving, I listen to books using Audible. If you’re on the road a lot, this is a great way to redeem your time.

WSJ

I read the Wall Street Journal to keep abreast of current events. This WSJ app provides me access to one of the best newspapers in America (and there aren’t many these days).

Siri

While not an app, I push the button on my iPhone and Siri asks me what I want to do. This is how I make phone calls by simply saying, “call my wife,” for example. I also send texts (or emails) the same way by saying “send a text to C.S. Lewis”; then I tell Siri what I want to say–works amazingly well; she even understands my southern accent (and that, my friends, is truly amazing).

What About You?

How do you use your cell phone at work? I would love to hear from you.

May 02

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

By Charles Hall | Technology

Do you find yourself overwhelmed with information? Today I show you seven ways to feed Evernote, a cloud-based storage application. You’ll soon be on your way to gaining control over your information overload.

Seven ways to feed Evernote

Evernote as a Solution to Information Overload

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. Once you create your Evernote account, you can do the following.

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?

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