Are you using Excel’s sum of selected cells feature? You should be.
CPAs love their ten-keys.
But a roll of adding machine tape on the floor does not mean I’m efficient. The sum of selected cells feature in Excel saves time and increases accuracy. Here’s how.
Now, isn’t that better than using a ten-key? Notice also that Excel provides you with a count, the number of items in the selected cells. Additionally, you can see the average as well. All at the bottom right-hand corner of your spreadsheet.
Here is a list of iPad apps for CPAs. You’ll find each one helpful in your daily work.
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.
OmniFocus – A 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 VersionBible 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).
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.)
Here are ten super easy ways to increase your 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.
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.
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.
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:
No answer and we’d play phone tag.
He’d answer, and we would talk about other things.
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 – 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.
Sprint, run or walk. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of your choice, it’s all about communicating clearly and timely.
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.