9 time-saving tech tips for the busy CPA

These easy life hacks can shave precious minutes off your workday.
By Lucinda Harper

If you’d like to be more efficient on the job, tech-focused solutions are a logical place to start.

Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, gave a presentation at the recent E.D.G.E. Conference on how young CPAs can work more quickly.

Here are some of the tips that Patrick, who is CEO and co-founder of cloud technology provider Simplified Innovations and a member of the AICPA governing Council, recommended to save CPAs’ time and trouble.

1. Improve the way you search your email inbox.

Getting to the exact email you need quickly out of the hundreds in your inbox can be a challenge. To make it less of a chore, Patrick recommends using the following commands:

Quotation marks: Use these to find an exact phrase. For example, type “tax penalty” into your search box to find all emails containing the phrase “tax penalty.” Don’t worry about capitalization when using this command.

Hyphen: Use hyphens to exclude messages from your search. For instance, type IRS-penalty into your search box to find emails that contain the word “IRS” but not “penalty.”

From: If you’re looking for emails from Jane Doe, whose email address is, type from:jdoe into your search box to find all messages from her. (You can also try from:jane or from:doe, but if there are multiple Janes or Does in your organization, you’ll see messages from them as well.)

To: Use this command to find all messages you sent to a person: to:jane, to:doe, or to:jdoe, for example.

Subject: Use this to search for words in the subject line of an email: subject:income, for example.

Has:attachment: To quickly find messages with an attachment, simply enter from:jdoe has:attachment.

Creative types can even combine these search tips to get even more precise searches.

2. Use the Snipping Tool to capture a screen shot of any image on your screen.

Need to show someone a portion of what’s on your computer screen? In Windows, go to the Start Menu and type “snipping tool” in the search box. Once the tool is open, click “New,” and then select any area on your screen you wish to capture. The image can then be written on, drawn on, saved, or shared. What’s great is that the image is automatically saved to your clipboard and can then be pasted into a document or email. You also can pin the tool so you can easily use it whenever you need it.

With Mac OS X, use Command+Shift+4 or the Grab app to do much the same thing.

3. Use clicks rather than dragging to highlight words.

In Microsoft Word, instead of carefully pointing to your desired word with your cursor and dragging to highlight it, you can simply double-click on it. You can triple-click to highlight a whole paragraph. You can use Ctrl+Backspace to delete a whole word.

4. Use the “Copy as path” option

Say you need to tell a colleague where to find a file in a shared folder. In Windows, to copy the path of a folder (such as M:\Important Stuff\Firm Holiday Schedule.docx), hold down the Shift key and right-click the file or folder that you want and select Copy as path. The path will be copied to your Clipboard, and you can then paste it where you need to. This tip can also come in handy when you’re attaching files to emails or filling in dialog boxes.

5. Use the Windows+L shortcut to lock your computer

All that sensitive data on your computer makes it pretty risky to walk away without shutting things down or locking things up. To lock up without having to go through the Start Menu or logging off entirely, press the Windows logo key plus L.

6. Use Windows+m and the Shake function to minimize items.

Pressing the Windows logo key+m automatically minimizes all open windows on your desktop at once.  Or, if you want to keep just one window open, click on the title bar of that window and “shake” it back and forth. This function will minimize all other open applications and only keep that one application maximized.

7. Use the “Save as PDF” add-in to streamline PDF creation.

PDFs are very helpful for sending files to clients or co-workers. Saving a document as a PDF ensures that it will look the same way to them as it does to you, regardless of what software they’re using. This leaves your documents safe, accessible, and secure for the long term. To save documents as PDFs using Microsoft Office applications such as Word or Excel, click File, Save As, and in the Save as type box, choose PDF or XPS from dropdown list. Depending on the version of Word or Excel you are using, you may have the choice to Save as PDF after you click File or on the Microsoft Office button at the top left.

8. Use the Format Painter function to copy formatting.

The Format Painter function allows you to copy formatting from one part of a Word or Excel document and apply it to a separate part of the document, thus sparing you from having to copy different parts of a format one by one. For instance, you can use Format Painter to easily change the size and style of a font and the paragraph size of a passage you have copied from one document into the same format of the document in which you have pasted it. Select the item (font, bullet, paragraph style, etc.) you like the look of, then click on the Home tab, followed by Format Painter. Next, select the item you want to match it. This tip is especially helpful in Excel because it provides you with an easy way to keep the format consistent and uniform. (You can also use the keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+Shift+c to copy the format, and Ctrl+Shift+v to add the format to the text where you need it.)

9. Search Google, not the website you are interested in

Most websites have search functions, but not all of them are efficient. Using Google to search a particular site for something—and not the website’s own search function—can save time and be much more accurate. Let’s say that you wanted to find out more about Byron Patrick. Type “ Byron” in the Google search bar. That will bring up mentions of him on his company website. Through Google you can easily see a list of sections within the website that you can choose to go to.

Lucinda Harper is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.

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