Productivity

Tools for Accountants

I recently upgraded my work bag and it got me thinking about what other tools accountants use for work.  After asking around I came up with a short list of some of the essentials.

 Peak Design Messenger Bag $250

Peak Design Messenger Bag $250

WORK BAG

I ditched the old free laptop bag provided by my a firm as it was costing me in weight.  I have used many of these similar bags in the past and they are all made with the same heavy cordura material and packed full of pockets and zippers.  While we get these for free, they are simply not worth it in the long run due to the extra weight.  For example, the messenger bag I gave up weighed 4.5lbs before anything was put in it.  The Peak Design Messenger weights only 2 lb 12oz and has just as much room. 

Estimating that I would carry my bag 30 minutes each day to and from work, for 260 workdays a year, this small change saves 420 lbs over 130 hrs!

At $250 it is expensive, but is well built and versatile. 

If you are looking for a backpack, Peak Design also carries two sizes for $260 and $290.

Everyday Backpack.jpg

EXCEL

Any accountant knows that excel is the most used tool in our daily jobs.  To get up to speed quickly Excel Campus is the ticket for pivot tables, and vlookup.  Many other training videos are plagued with bad audio or amateur video editing so this is a good source to start with.

 

HEADPHONES

With hot-desking and open-space working, keeping your focus is tough when working long hours.  Music is essential. I assumed BOSE headphones were a dinosaur with the popular Beats and Skullcandy taking over the market, but after polling accountants, and finally using them myself, the Bose Noise Cancelling line is clearly the top choice.  The Quiet Comfort 25 is affordable at $170 but if you want the best the new 35 line will cost you $350 for the jump in performance.

 BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

10 KEY

If you are still using a calculator at your desk, I highly recommend you look at upgrading it to something that connects to excel.  Belkin has the best Bluetooth option and has a good clean ‘Apple’ design. 

 Belkin 10 Key

Belkin 10 Key

MASTER TAX GUIDE

This is the only book I recommend keeping at your desk as this works the best when doing tax research.  Each fact is footnoted to help with followup research to the primary sources.  Ditch the quickfinder and start with this.

DRY ERASE

If you are still carrying EXPO markers at your office, send this link to your office manager.  Idea Paint Markers leave a better line and are widely used among the top tech firms.  This company uses special paint to cover walls to act as dry erase boards. 

Alternatively the Quartet is a great runner up and the Chisel tip is a must have for clean, clear writing.

idea paint.jpg

NOTEBOOK

There is a growing appreciation for paper organization systems and there is none better than the Bullet Journal developed by Ryder Carrol.  The system is easy to use, and adaptable to anything you may need.  I made a list of good notebooks to use with this system HERE.

For accountants, we are developing a notebook system of our own to help get organized all in one place.  It has six different layouts and includes a reference section that is a collection of websites, excel tips, formulas and benchmark data.  Find it HERE.

 To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...

To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...

APPS

The three most popular accounting apps I have found are OmniFocus, Tiny Scanner, and a new one I have just started looking into, Jetpack.

OmniFocus - The ultimate work and personal task management system

Tiny Scanner - Great for client files and easy transfer to secure portals

Jetpack - Accounting firm workflow and management assistant

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THE ECONOMIST

If you want the news without a lot of bias and editorial filler, this is the best choice.  

 Latest article on accounting in The Economist

Latest article on accounting in The Economist

VODKA SODA

After putting up with clients and bosses all day, and if you're going to have a drink, this is a good way to avoid the calories during busy season.  Cheers!

Vodka Soda.jpg

Let me know if I missed anything and want to add it to the list.

Cheers!

2018 Busy Season Survival Guide

Making it though busy season is rough. 

Keeping your life together while working 70-80 hours a week seems impossible, but with a few tricks from some seasoned CPA’s you can get through without getting burned out.

 

Take the stairs

Finding time to exercise while working all day and night can be tough, so the best way to get the heart rate up throughout the day is take the stairs.  I worked with a couple people that swore by this and would race to the top.   They also claimed that going down stairs made them feel less stressed.

MC-Escher-Relativity-19531.jpg
 

Reading Fiction

Clearing your mind at the end of the day is a great way to get some solid sleep.  Knowing that the cell phone isn’t great on your system at night, reading helps reduce stress by as much as 68% with only 6 minutes of reading as studied by Dr. David Lewis.

 

Coffee

During my worst season I tried a higher caffeine coffee called Death Wish Coffee and loved it.  I keep this on hand for the roughest mornings and highly recommend it.  Falling into the category of personal investment, picking up some better quality tea or coffee can give you the chemical boost you need to keep going.

Death Wish Coffee.png
 

Dark Chocolate

Nurses that work the night-shift swear by this little treat as it helps to regulate your mood.  Dr. Diana Walcutt Ph.D. lists out all the great benefits of this dark gold and in moderation, it can be great during times of high stress.  

- Boosts brain levels of endorphins

- Increased serotonin, a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act

- Includes resveratrol, an antioxidant (immune system booster)

Dark Chocolate.jpg
 

Get Organized

Creating a workflow system to help keep all your to-do lists is a must and this includes your work, as well as your personal items.  To find a good method, I wrote about a number of systems to consider in an early blog post here.

We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to the other, each time with a neurobiological switching cost.
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Meal Prep

Sundays should be dedicated to getting laundry done, and planning your meals for the week.  This is a very common tactic and one I wish I had started many years ago.  Stock up on fruits and veggies to keep your mind and body healthy and avoid the unhealthy choices.  Also consider using help fresh or blue apron to have the ingredients delivered. 

Blue Apron.jpg
 

Side Projects

This was the hardest for me to accept as I always was working on new ventures on the side to help boost my creative spirit.  Accounting never quite filled the artistic side for me and I finally had to put my side work on hold for a few months. 

The result has been great and by choosing to do this, rather than running out of time, it has helped me feel in control of my life.  If too much is going on, I fall out of step and everything suffers.  Choose a few things to focus on at a time, and revisit it at the beginning of each month to plan ahead, rather than fall behind.

DSC_5893.png
 

Classwork and Studying

If possible, avoid any big tests like the CPA exams during busy season. Build out a schedule for the year and put things on hold until you can dedicate the extra time. If you do the math, you may find some time, but this depends on your schedule:

Hours available in a week = 168

Less work hours - 70      

Less 7 hours sleep - 49

Less getting ready for work .5 hours – 3.5

Less commute time 1.5 hours – 10.5

Total personal hours = 35 (5 per day)

This does leave some time to add 2-3 hours of study, but this may add a level of stress that will quickly lead to burnout.

 

New Job

Keeping an eye on your future is the best method to keep a positive mental attitude.  If you feel stuck and overworked with no escape, the work can be depressing.  However, if you happen to answer one of the 100 recruiter calls during this time of year, give them a chance as it can be fun to see what else is out there. 

Also, keep an eye out within your own office to look for good managers and bosses to work for.  Hitching your wagon to someone that you look up to and that treat their subs well, can make all the difference even if you are doing the same amount of work. 

I am much more willing to work harder for someone that will help advance my career and show real appreciation for my work.

ey-building.jpg
 

Staying Positive

All the above items are tools to help create a healthy outlook on work during the worst of times.  Hopefully you can use these to help stay positive, as this is the key to making it through the tough times.  Just know that there is an end to the busy time, and it will all pay off in the end. 

Best of luck to you and if you have any tricks or tips to pass on, please leave them in the comments below!

Mike Linn, CPA

 

P.S. Avoid this!

Do we organize things to get more done, or does it just feel good?

Blackwings

 

I was recently playing trains with my son and naturally started sorting the cars by type so he could quickly find the ones he wanted.  It felt quite natural to start this way and it was enjoyable to get them all lined up.

This led me to wonder, is it really efficient to do something like this, or does it just feel good?

IT JUST FEELS GOOD

To start, it has been shown that the act of sorting and organizing things has been tied to the dopamine reward center in our brains.  This is why Tetris was/is so popular because our minds like to complete little tasks.  Dr Tom Stafford explored this theory a few years ago when Tetris turned 30 years old in his article in BBC Future:

"The game of tessellating bricks takes advantage of the mind’s basic pleasure in tidying up by feeding it with a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks."
Tetris Drawing

This is the same concept when we make To-Do lists and only work on the easy ones.  Or when making long lists of books to read, workouts to try, meals to make, or places to visit. Afterwards you feel productive and ready to start anything...only to realize you don't have time to get to them.  

To further support the theory that our minds like things to be organized, just look at some of the popular Instagram feeds of sorted objects to help make them feel less foreign.

Flatlays

 Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from  CW Pencils !

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from CW Pencils!

I could go on and on and entire Reddit subreddits have been made showing just how much people love to look at organized stuff called knolling. Okay, so in general, people like to sort and organize things.


GETTING ORGANIZED

The next step is to decide if there is a benefit to getting organized before starting a new project.

"As human beings, it is in our nature to seek order when we are presented with new information, in an attempt to sort and classify that information quickly.  The action is paramount to our understanding of what is being presented."  
- Amy Graver & Ben Jura, Best Practices for Graphic Designers
"Productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization.  The drive to categorize developed in the prehistoric wiring of our brains, in specialized neural systems that create and maintain meaningful, coherent amalgamations of things-foods, animals, tools, tribe members-in coherent categories.  Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information."

- Dr. Daniel Levitin. The Organized Mind

 

Organized tool kit

"One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity."

- Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up

 Once you start getting projects done, you build your  Internal Locus of Control.

Once you start getting projects done, you build your Internal Locus of Control.

The Princeton Neuroscience Institute published a study in The Journal of Neuroscience addressing this question directly by studying what happens when someone tries to work in a visually stimulated environment.  The way we process visual information is a competitive system and therefore, we can gain a higher level of concentration when fewer visual items are competing for our attention.  

 Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

BENEFITS OF BEING ORGANIZED

The benefits attributed to being organized are quite long and hard to ignore when they stand up to testing.  Here are just a few that I believe stand out:

  • Reducing stress and depression
  • Eating healthier
  • Exercising more and losing weight
  • Sleeping better

The above are taken from this article that goes into the science behind each benefit.

IN SUMMARY

To answer the question, 'is getting organized a beneficial act, or just a way to feel better,' I believe the answer is...both. The science behind these ideas can't be ignored and I can see the benefits every time I work on a project.  

There are plenty of people who get a lot done without having a clean workspace, but the science suggests it is more taxing on the brain. (I wrote a whole blog post on this here) There are also levels of organization and all the different areas of life that impact how one can be 'organized' that I haven't addressed.  

Overall, I believe the case can be made that by getting organized it helps generate a positive feeling and helps to get more done.

I hope you enjoyed this post and please let me know if you agree!  

Mike

The trick to being productive in 2017...

2016 To Do List

Is wrapping up 2016.

Before moving forward into the New Year, consider finishing up your to-do list in these final days of 2016 and organize your work-area to be ready to start anything next year.

A few things to consider while organizing the spaces you use on a daily basis:

  • Put away everything on your desk and wipe off the surface
  • Pick up all the clutter around your home and find bins/storage for things you want to put away
  • Clean up your car and clean out your trunk
  • Clean out your work bag

Doing these small tasks helps the hippocampus region of your brain and frees it up to focus on more important items, like moving short-term memories into long-term.  I wrote more about this in an earlier post here.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Clear off as many items from your 2016 to-do list as possible

Clear off as many items from your 2016 to-do list as possible

Finally, look back at 2016 and decide what you regret not doing last year. Commit to this in 2017 and do it. Don't let another year go by living with the weight of not doing what is most important to you!

 The Volt Planner is a great notebook tool for 2017 as well.  Check it out  here .

The Volt Planner is a great notebook tool for 2017 as well.  Check it out here.

To help with getting ready for the New Year, I recommend a book by Chris Bailey, The Productivity Project.  Mr. Bailey has demonstrated his knowledge and experience through his blog at http://alifeofproductivity.com/ where he writes about testing all manner of productivity tools and systems. This book is a great summary of the outcomes and worth the money to have only the useful options and examples laid out in an engaging format. 

I appreciate the open source writing style that shows the truth behind how he arrives at his conclusions and take-always. This is what sets this book apart from any other productivity book as this allows the reader to actively learn and retain the most important teachings of the book.

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to free up more time to work on projects they care about.

The Productivity Project is available on Amazon HERE

 Find more information on Rule of 3  here.

Find more information on Rule of 3 here.

I had a chance to ask Mr. Bailey what he thought people should focus on when looking to 2017 and his response hit at the core of his teachings around time, energy, and attention.

I think one of the most powerful ways to accomplish more—whether on a daily basis or in general—is to work more often with intention. My favorite rule for doing this is the Rule of 3—where at the start of every week, as well as at the start of every day, you think forward to what three things you’ll want to have accomplished by the time the day and week are done. We should do this at the start of every year, too. Instead of creating a massive laundry list of things to get done, for 2017, choose just three goals. This will help you separate what’s important from what isn’t to really decide what’s important and meaningful to you.

 

Chris Bailey's latest TEDx talk is a great introduction to his year of productivity experiment.

To help get you started working on your own three goals for 2017, I encourage you to leave a comment below with the things you will be focusing on. As an incentive, I will send a copy of Mr. Bailey's book to one lucky winner chosen at random, to be announced this Friday, Dec. 23rd. I hope this will encourage you to get working on your goals with intention and purpose!  

Cheers and Happy Holidays!