Precisely four years back, on 1st September 2018, I took my first CPE lecture at ICAI Ahmedabad. The topic “Applications of Work Flow” was unconventional and interested many participants. I firmly believe if you identify your workflows in your practice and optimize them with the right tools, you can achieve 10x results. Based on my experience of more than one decade, mainly with US clients, I am listing down the most powerful Practice Management tools a Chartered Accountant can adopt to increase productivity.
Information Management is the most undermined area, and many of us might not have a clue about the problem in the first place. Now think about your current method of taking notes. For example, you might be using Excel/word/text files or WhatsApp/emailing to yourself or post-it on your mobile/PC/table or Starred emails or bookmarks in the browser, and lastly, something is always kept un-externalized on your mind.
Now, what if I tell you that you can compile everything of the above in one place with minimum effort? The answer is the “Note Taking” app. My personal favorite note-taking app is Evernote. I have been keeping all the information externalized and adequately organized in Evernote. The outcome – I have been able to work on multiple big projects simultaneously as I have all the information in one place. Furthermore, I can get off one project and start working on another as if I am already working on it continuously.
With Evernote, you can compile all your information in multiple ways:
- Evernote Web Clipper (Chrome Extension) can save a web page in various formats to Evernote
- You can forward essential emails to dedicated account-specific Evernote Email to keep them in Evernote
- Take a Snapshot of receipts from the Evernote Mobile App etc
- Evernote Mobile Widgets can help you take quick notes about thoughts/ideas that come into your mind on the go.
- You can trigger automated actions in Evernote automatically by using an app like IFTTT (discussed later in this article)
OneNote, Google Keep, and Notion are some Evernote alternatives.
How many times did it happen to you that your Hard Disk crashed and you lost all your files and needed to take assistance to recover those? And imagine the stress and firefighting that come with such a situation. I am blessed to find a Cloud File system like Dropbox early in my Professional career. With services like Dropbox, your local files in the Dropbox folder get synced with the cloud automatically and instantly. And You can access files from other devices with dropbox installed simultaneously.
Cloud File systems like Dropbox not only comes with the always online-always available feature, there are a plethora of benefits:
- File Versions – Dropbox retains each version of your files for at least 30 days.
- Deleted Files – You can also recover deleted files up to at least 30 days
- Web Access – You can access your files from anywhere on any device with your credentials
- Collaborate – You can share your live folder with your team and can work together on that folder
Google Drive and OneDrive are similar alternatives to Dropbox.
Having a centralized Task List organized into various Projects is equally crucial for productivity. Trello is my favorite task management tool due to the kanban card feature that enables you to drag and drop tasks between lists.
Furthermore, you can create your own system of organizing lists as per your workflow. For example, you can have a lists system for Important, Non-Important, Urgent, and Non-Urgent. Alternatively, you can create a lists system like Delegate, Waiting On, Pending, and Completed. Also, You can have a lists system while working on a team like Backlog, To Do, In Progress, and For review.
Benefits of Trello Task Management are:
- Create a checklist within a task card
- Able to comment on the task card and attach files to it
- Add due dates and reminders to task cards
- Accessible from any device
- Collaborate with team or client
Asana and Teams are some of the alternatives to Trello.
One more bonus tip for Notes Management, Files Management, and Task Management is to have the same hierarchical structure in your Notes App, File App, and Tasks app can help you quickly start working on a project and finish it.
The reason why you are not starting work on a project is unorganized moving parts of the project that you can not quickly gather when you have a short duration of free time. You would rather excuse by saying you do not have sufficient time to complete that task. With the above apps and proper identical hierarchy, you can complete one sub-task of a significant project in a small chunk of free time you get and move ahead towards your goal.
Most of the time, our inbox looks like a dustbin with important emails hidden below useless marketing/transactional emails. Here are some of the quick tips with which you can ace your productivity in this area:
- Configure Outlook for your inbox, including Gmail. One of the great benefits is to have offline access to the inbox.
- With Outlook, you can rename the emails’ subjects in your inbox. Yes, you can do it; it would be a more meaningful reference for future searches.
- CLEAR your inbox, don’t just check it. Do; Waiting On; Achieve(Information); Delete (become ruthless)
- Create a “Quick Steps” Macro in Outlook to automate multiple steps with the click of a button.
- Unsubscribe from Unwanted mail services
A Bonus tip is to use “Streak”, a chrome extension, to track read receipts on important client communication like invoice follow-ups, etc.
Customer Relationship Management
Have you ever figured out how many channels your customer gets in touch with you? And you have to track all the communication on those different channels like WhatsApp, phone calls, Emails, and personal meetings. It is obviously one of the time killers to complete those tasks because reaching the question itself is complex; forget about doing those tasks.
What if you have a central system where the clients directly reach you, or you can enter all your communication with clients? A CRM tool like JIRA Service Management can help you in this regard.
With JIRA Service Management:
- The client can email to a dedicated JIRA email. When the client sends an email to this JIRA email, it directly gets registered as a ticket on JIRA.
- Set up automation rules so your team can focus on solving the critical stuff and help lighten the workload.
- Employees or customers can submit requests or search through your knowledge base with an intelligent, intuitive portal.
- Easily configure your request forms and associated workflows with drag & drop fields.
- Choose from out-of-the-box reports or customize your own to help track specific team goals, such as Time to Resolution or SLA success rates.
Below are some bonus tools that can equally help you boost your productivity.
CLCL is the tiny tool but most powerful which can save you at least 1 hour each day. CLCL is the Clipboard Manager. With CLCL, you can paste 50/100 recent copied items with the press of a shortcut key. You can also create a Template item which will always be available as a copied item, and you can paste it anywhere. It supports not only text items but also the files like images and PDFs.
Have you ever needed to reset your password for a website because you used it a long time back and forgot it? With Lastpass, a password management tool, you can autofill passwords on websites saved in the Lastpass vault. When installed as a Chrome extension, Lastpass prompts you to save new passwords when detected for the first time. And most importantly, all these passwords are available on all devices where you are using Lastpass, unlike local browser-saved passwords.
IFTTT is another powerful tool with which you can make various apps communicate with one another. With IFTTT, you can define triggers in one app to automate action in another app. That is the reason why it is called If This, Then That. For example, you can send an auto-response SMS when you miss a call. Or you can save a screenshot on your phone directly to your Dropbox folder. Automatically share your YouTube uploads to a Facebook Page. There are thousands of possibilities in IFTT with which you can automate routine tasks.
Calendly is a Free Online Appointment Scheduling Software. With Calendly, you can share a link with your customers, and they can themselves book meetings in your calendar based on slots you made yourself available daily. It eliminates the hassle of back-and-forth emails agreeing on a meeting time so you can get back to work.
Mailchimp is an Email Campaign Service that allows you to send emails to a list of emails. With Mailchimp, you can contact your clients at large for various communication, like asking for a list of documents for ITR filing or wishing festival greetings, etc.
Once implemented, all of the above tools can bring you tremendous productivity in the long term. It’s like an investment you make in each of these tools. For example, when you start creating notes in Evernote, after a couple of months, you will have an information bank compiled and organized in a central place which you can refer to when needed. It will start reaping benefits as you continue using these tools for your Practice Management as a Chartered Accountant.
So now, with ample time saved, I recommend you to invest in diversifying your CA Practice in newer areas like Outsourcing Practice.
Let me know in the comments section below which tool you find most helpful for your practice management as Chartered Accountant.
Please read my other blog articles on various topics at https://www.smartcafirms.com/ca-firms-blog/.
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