Prioritization tips, sticky-note strategy, and The Princess Bride

Hosted by Neil Amato

In the September issue of the Journal of Accountancy, Marie Brilmyer, CPA, said in The Last Word: "I think my greatest challenge has been in figuring out how to step back or when I need to step back." In this podcast episode, Brilmyer expands on the need to prioritize and offers advice for others who may be seeking balance. Also, hear a preview of other JofA articles from the recent print issue and from our news page:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • More on Marie Brilmyer's sticky-note strategy.
  • Why one part of prioritization includes not feeling guilty.
  • A memorable line from one of Brilmyer's favorite movies, The Princess Bride.
  • A reminder of why underbilling for services can hurt CPA firms in the long run.
  • Two Excel-related Technology Q&A articles.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this podcast episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato, a
JofA senior editor, at


Neil Amato: Marie Brilmyer is an assurance partner with Cohen & Company in Akron, Ohio. She's a CPA and also the subject of The Last Word in the Journal of Accountancy September issue. She's joining me, senior editor Neil Amato, on this episode of the Journal of Accountancy podcast, which you'll hear right after the sponsor message.

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Amato: The Last Word features an accounting leader on the last page of each JofA issue. The feature includes several personality and human interest questions in addition to professional ones. I'm going to start with Marie on a question that covers both areas. Is there a process, or maybe I should say a method to the madness, related to your love of sticky notes?

Marie Brilmyer: You know, Neil, I wish there was. I really just like to write on them, and I stick them all over the place: my laptop, my desk, my monitors. I move them around based on importance. I write them, I rewrite them, I throw them away when things are complete. I've actually dug them out of the garbage when I felt like, "Hey, I threw something away that I needed." Like I said in my article, I take pictures of them, I have others take pictures of them.

But for me, it's really my way of prioritizing and reprioritizing. Things move up and down on my list every single day, every single hour and having a visual reminder of where things stand, that really helps me. Not only do I do this at work, but I do it at home, too. Although at home, it's more about grocery and dinner and reminders that I leave for my kids. But again, it really helps keep me organized and lets me change things around as my day goes on.

Amato: That makes sense. Also on this personal front, probably a little more personal than even the sticky notes question, you were asked to name your favorite movie. You came up with two, declaring a personal tie, I guess, between the movies Heathers and The Princess Bride. I think those are movies that certainly people know, especially The Princess Bride. You apparently know all the lines to both movies. Is there a favorite line of yours? Everyone seems to recite, "My name is Inigo Montoya," but is there one that stands out to you more?

Brilmyer: There are so many. I'm sure everyone thinks of that one, but they think of "Inconceivable," things like that. My favorite line is actually when Inigo Montoya said that joke, "No more rhymes. Now I mean it. Anyone want a peanut?" That one is my favorite one.

Amato: Maybe you don't spend so much time these days on movies that you can memorize. Maybe you do, I don't know, but clearly you still make time. You are good at prioritizing. Let's talk some about prioritizing, which was a topic of your Last Word interview. Was there a key time in your life that maybe you needed to revisit your priorities?

Brilmyer: Absolutely. It's happened actually many, many times. I think back to all the changes with my kids as they've grown. I used to think the baby stages were the hardest. But as they've gotten older and busier, I really needed to keep my priorities straight and I still do. But I think back to a key time in my life was really when I changed firms about five, six years ago. That was really one of the hardest professional decisions that I have ever had to make. That really took place in part based on my need to reprioritize.

When I did join where I'm at today, I really needed to ensure that I wouldn't fall into the same exact things, the same exact way that I had been doing. Mostly speaking about all the volunteering, all the extracurricular things that I was doing, if you could call it that, but really seeing what boards, what committees I was volunteering for, where I was spending my time and really looking down deep into everything I was doing and making sure it was in line with my professional goals and also my personal life.

That was really a tough time because, to me, it was all about not only what you did when you were sitting at your desk, but also all the things that you were doing after work and the things that you were doing on the side with all of your volunteer committees and out in the community. That was really taking a toll on how I was able to perform in the office, as well as being able to take care of things on the personal side.

Amato: What lessons would you share with others who might seek help prioritizing? They may be in that same situation, they're trying to be that fantastic parent, that great employee, and also have outside interests and volunteering, and they can't seem to make time to do those things to the fullest.

Brilmyer: First and foremost, be flexible. I've spent my entire career in public accounting, so this is something that I need to practice every minute of every day. You never know what you'll run into when you get to the office in the morning, log on to your computer, and check your email. The second thing I'd say is really don't feel guilty. I know this is always very difficult when you have a big deadline that keeps you away from your family. You certainly feel upset that you have to miss dinner. When your kids have a soccer game that you need to leave the office for, you feel guilty if your team is still hard at work. That guilt can really get to you.

As you know, the more you volunteer and the more you participate, the more offers you get. When I simply can't volunteer my time or I've determined, "Hey, this isn't a good fit for me for one reason or another," I really try to offer up other forms of assistance such as finding others or suggesting others to serve on the committee or the board. I've also tried, really at this point in my life, don't do anything halfway. I'm either in or I'm not — end of story. To me, it has helped me prioritize my time because there's only so many hours in a day that you can give to all the different things that you're doing.

Amato: Also, on the topic of mentoring, that is something that you mentioned in the interview. Why is it something you'd like to do?

Brilmyer: I really feel like that is important. That's probably just as important as any other thing that you do in day-to-day. Certainly, sharing your experiences and seeing if they might be able to help others along in their careers is very important to me. I really feel like this is a tough profession. Any way that I can help anyone, whether it be sharing my personal experience or just listening, I think is very important and really goes a long way.

Amato: Again, that was CPA Marie Brilmyer. We appreciate her being on the podcast. You can read more about her in The Last Word in the September issue of the JofA. There are several other articles of note from that issue. First, the Technology Q&A section has some good advice from a previous podcast guest, CPA Kelly Williams, on how to add favorites to the ribbon in Excel. Some of us have our favorite features that we use often. Well, there's a way to put those in one tab to allow for ease of use.

Also, Kelly Williams has the answer to this Excel question: "I have Excel files that contain multiple comments and notes throughout the spreadsheet. Is there a way to see all the comments and notes in one place? And can I print them?" The answer is "yes." Williams explains in words, screen grabs, and in a video embedded in the article, which we will link to in the show notes for this episode.

Also in the September issue, freelance writer Cheryl Meyer has an article on billing that provides good advice for CPA firms. One section of the article deals with underbilling for services. If a firm is reluctant to raise its fees or fears it will upset a client or lose the client, that can lead to problems down the road. Several CPAs are quoted in the article, which details how firms can maximize their billing practices and avoid some of the billing myths out there.

In news on, two exposure drafts have been released and the comment period set by the AICPA Professional Ethics Executive Committee. The exposure drafts focus on unpaid fees and also accounting standards implementation services for attest clients. Those topics were included in a conversation with Toni Lee-Andrews, the director of the AICPA's Professional Ethics Division, in last week's podcast.

Finally, the AICPA Peer Review Board published a proposal recently that is designed to clarify peer review standards and make them easier for practitioners to apply. Ken Tysiac has that article. You can look for it on We'll also post links in the show notes for this episode. Thank you for listening to the JofA podcast.