I’ve written about it before and I’m pretty sure it applies to most offices.  If you want to be successful (or keep your job) you have to internalize the culture around you.  It’s helpful if you like your environment, but that doesn’t always happen so sometimes you have to fake it.

By December 2010 faking it became really hard.  Almost impossible.  Fortunately, getting to that point took six months.  More than enough time to find a new job.  And by February 2011, I had a verbal offer.

Getting the offer was great.  But it put me in a very dangerous “what the fuck” mindset because I didn’t feel like running around on a hamster wheel – doing shit that didn’t make any sense – anymore.  I was fed up with gaming the system so I started playing things straight up by recording my real time.  If I finished a file budgeted for 10 hours in 5, I billed 5 not 10.

This is not a good thing to do.  It gives the impression you aren’t working because your utilization rate will be extremely low.  And from the partner level it means you’re missing your billable hours targets – aka not working – which is against company policy and unfair to the people who are “working.”  It actually screws you over a second time because you’ll end up juggling way too many files if you start requesting more work.

If you really want to change the game, be a leader and come up with a solution.  This is a lot more productive than finding ways to prove the system is broken.  Pointing out flaws is a waste of time and pisses people off.

Please don’t do what I did.  It’s dumb.  Sometimes you’ll be asked to do things that don’t make sense.  Where you will have to say, “yes this might be stupid, but I need to go along with it for the time being.”  These spots take a tremendous amount of patience and perspective to get through.  Especially when you know you are killing time.  I wish it was possible to avoid them altogether, but that’s naive.  Sometimes they won’t even be stupid.  You just won’t have enough perspective to see the value of what you’re doing.

I should have sucked it up for 2 more months, kept my head down and left on my on terms.

Like anything, this is a learning process.  I fucked up and I’m trying to take as much away from this situation as possible.  The above aside, things aren’t awful right now.  I’ll get to that in Part 2.

Posted by: LYF | April 21, 2011

Some tips on dressing better

Over the past year I’ve been trying to dress more like a “grown up.”  Here are some rules I’ve been successfully applying…

The width of your tie should be as wide as the lapels on your jacket

Your socks should be darker than your pants – this is why you don’t wear white socks with dress pants.

Stick to basics.  Get them right first before you start buying striped shirts, messing with french cuffs or wearing pin stripes.

Your shoes should be darker than your pants – this is why you won’t wear brown shoes with black pants.

Match your shoes to your belt.  The colours don’t have to match exactly.  In fact it usually looks better if they’re slightly different.

If you’re going to match your tie to your pocket square use a different colour from the same family – i.e. white square with baby blue border with a dark blue shirt.

Baggy pants will make you look like a shlub.  Take them to a tailor and ask for either no break or a single break.

Just because it’s your size, doesn’t mean it fits.  Find a good tailor.

Don’t match your tie exactly to your shirt.  It looks try hard.  It’s better to be subtle.

Posted by: LYF | March 4, 2011

I need your help to plan a mini-retirement

It’s not certain yet, but I may be going on a mini-retirement for the next two and a half months.  Two and a half months is a long time and I don’t have any personal projects to keep me busy for that long.  So I’m hoping you guys can help me come up with something.

What would you do if you didn’t have to work?  Volunteer?  Write a book?  Take a cooking class?  There are no wrong answers.  Let me know.  If I choose you’re idea you may get a prize.

Posted by: LYF | March 3, 2011

How to survive busy season

In order of biggest impact/easiest to do.

Sleep

This is the most important thing you can do.  You really need to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep a night.  To ensure those 8 hours are high quality try these three things.  One, eat a meal high in animal fats before bed.  This could be bacon, beef or a roast etc.  Two, lower the temperature in your room.  It should be cold enough that you’ll want to be under your covers.  You don’t want to be cold, you just want the incentive to be in your bed.  And three, get quality curtains that block out as much light as possible.  Black out blinds are best.  If you don’t want those, then get something pretty close.

Sleep will impact your entire life – your mood, the quality of your work, eating habits, mental clarity etc.  Most people will read this and say, “well I get 7 or so hours and that’s good enough for me.”  Most of these people have forgotten what it’s like to get 8+ hours of sleep 5 days in a row.  There’s no way you can compare 5 sleeps at 8 hours a night against 7 hours over the same period and say the latter was just as good as the former.

Where you’ll get caught up/why you won’t do this

Everyone likes chatting on facebook, watching tv, playing video games etc.  You’ll have to make a conscious decision to stop doing whatever it is your doing at a reasonable hour to get the sleep you need.  This will be tough and at first you won’t want to.  It might even feel lame – “I can’t believe I’m going to bed so early.  This sucks.”  But honestly, what are you missing?  TV?  Start downloading.  Video games?  Play them on the weekend.  Socializing?  Use bbm or gmail chat during the day.

Don’t feel like buying blinds?  If you’re going to be lazy just drop the temperature in your room.  It requires the least amount of effort and it will help a lot.

Food prep

After sleeping, eating well is key.  During busy season it’s really easy to get into the habit of eating out.  No one likes having to cook dinner especially after working 10+ hours.  But this can sometimes turn into a fast food frenzy of eating shit food everyday.  If you eat fast food like Mcdonalds, Wendy’s or Tim Horton’s you will get fat and slow. Don’t do this.  Go and buy a slow cooker.

Take meat and vegetables, put them in the slow cooker, add a liquid and some spices then turn it to “on.”  That’s it.  You can do this when you get home and leave it on overnight.  Waking up to the smell of beef stew is epic.

Where you’ll get caught up/why you won’t do this

Most people are nervous about cooking because they’re worried about screwing things up.  Add to that my recommendation of using something that most people in their early to mid twenties are unfamiliar with.  Two huge barriers to most people actually going out and buying a slow cooker.

Having said that, slow cookers are not expensive and you can pick them at most home stores.  You also don’t have to know anything about seasoning.  Just pick a liquid that has a lot of flavour – any red wine will do – to ensure deliciousness ensues.

Supplements

I take 8000IU’s of vitamin D and 16 fish oil pills a day.  I’ve found both to be extremely helpful when it comes to being more productive.  So one at a time.  Vitamin D will effect your mood.  It’s kind of difficult to describe.  You know that feeling you get?  When you’re assigned a messy file and you’re first reaction is “ughhh….”?

It’s work so it’s not uncommon to get more work, but sometimes you just won’t be in the mood for another notice to reader or control test or walk through or retained earnings reconciliation.  Vitamin d basically melts away those feelings and leaves you with a “sure lets get this done attitude.”  It’s really subtle and difficult to notice.  I remember thinking about a week or so after I started taking vitamin d, “I have a ton of bookkeeping files, but it’s not bothering me at all like it used to.”  I end up feeling more optimistic, refreshed and calm.

Vitamin D dosages can be tricky.  I started taking 500IUs a day for a few weeks.  I gradually upped the dose until I started noticing a difference around 4,000IUs.  My ideal amount turned out to be 8,000IUs after some trial and error.  Anything above that and I start feeling a little wired, similar to drinking a Starbucks coffee.

Fish oil has two huge benefits.  It reduces inflammation and helps with memory.  The first effect is nice because you’ll notice you no longer feel bloated after meals.  It also helps with injuries – most times there’s swelling when you’ve hurt yourself.  More importantly, it can have a huge impact on your memory and cognitive abilities.  Similar to vitamin d, it’s hard to notice.  I didn’t really pick up on it it until I was bored one day and started looking at my billable hours/how many books I was reading.

From January to May last year I read 8 books.  From June to December I read 20.  I also cut my billable hours in half working on the same number of files from June on.  I can’t say for certain that both were the result of the fish oil.  I also started taking vitamin d around that time, switched to a paleo diet and started crossfit.  But I’ve noticed that when I up my fish oil dosage I find it easier to remember things I’ve read.  And I spend less time figuring things out versus doing work on most files.

Like I mentioned though, play around with how much you’re taking and do some research on your own too.  If you’re planning on taking more than 8 fish oils a day split them up between breakfast and dinner – your stomach will thank you.

Where you’ll get caught up/why you won’t do this

You’ll think the dosages I’m talking about are waaaay too high!  And even if you’re not that skeptical, you won’t feel like putting in the effort to do the research for yourself.  Or you’ll already be taking vitamins, so it’ll be easy to say, “oh ok, I already got that covered no need to try this.”  Honestly, just try this stuff out for two weeks.  That’s all it will take to notice a difference.  Vitamin D costs about $20 a bottle, which will last you a month and the same goes for fish oil.

File prep

For audits do all the client acceptance/continuance, engagement risk stuff first.  You’ll know what to do without having to ask anyone.  Best case scenario, fill out the risk assessment forms and then sit down with whoever is going to review your work to see if they agree.  Then input the trial balance and balance the statements.

At this point most of the risk assessment stuff should be done as well as your audit plan.  The key efficiency here is sitting down with the higher-up and agreeing on the risk assessment stuff.  Not only will you get their input, it’ll speed up the work.

When you’re at the client focus on the things you actually need the client for – expense testing, receivables/payables testing, bank recs etc.  Best case scenario you’ve prepared your samples before and emailed them prior to going to the client so everything is ready for you to tick and bop once you get there.  All the other audit testing you can do back at the office or at home.

This is important – take one afternoon to do all the cycles (expenses, payroll, investing, sales) with the client.  Arrange a block of time before hand.  This is the biggest time saver.  I’ve seen lots of people try to fill out these forms based on prior year templates and information they’ve picked up during other audit field work.  The reason being, most people are nervous about “bothering the client.”  I’ve found most clients are very accommodating if you schedule a time with them a few days in advance.

Notice to readers are sort of similar.  Get the top of file stuff done quick.  It doesn’t require much thinking.  Input the trial balance and balance the statements.  Get all your source docs and put them in the file – this takes no time if the client is on quickbooks.  Import the gifi into taxprep and that’s it.

Print off last year’s adjusting journal entries so you know what to look for and compare the current numbers against the prior years’ to check for new mistakes.

That’s pretty much it.  Do the quick stuff first.  And then get help from people who are more knowledgeable than you on the tough stuff.

Where you’ll get caught up/why you won’t do this

Everyone likes doing the sections on the file they’re most comfortable with.  And a lot of new employees are nervous when it comes to talking with clients.  If all this is too much, try the notice to reader approach, while paying attention to how efficient you’re being.  Or try one of the tactics on the audit, like sitting with the client to finish off all the cycle documentation.  If it works great, try some more.  Do a little at a time to get comfortable with it.

Posted by: LYF | February 22, 2011

Notice to reader in 2.5 hours

If you’re doing a notice to reader with very few adjusting journal entries – amortization, accruals, tax provision etc. – you should be able to do it in under 3 hours.  Here’s how.

  • Input trial balance
  • Balance statements
  • Complete all top of file info (continuance/engagement letters/independence etc.)
  • Scan in working papers
  • Tie in schedules
  • Prepare letters (cover letter/lawyer letter etc.)
  • Prepare tax return
  • Review file

This is how long it should take to do a file if you know exactly what you’re doing.  You won’t be spending time figuring out what to do, you’ll just do it.

You can get them under 90 minutes if you’ve linked caseware to taxprep and import your trial balance.

Most accounting firms budget a minimum of 3-5 hours for a notice to reader.  Or you’ll get something like, “this should take a day – day and a half.”

Here’s a scenario.  You’re a new CA who’s just started working for a medium size firm in Toronto.  You’ve been given your first file.  A small notice to reader with a few adjusting journal entries – amortization, tax, accounting accrual.  If you want to impress the higher ups, what do you do?

Finish the file in the amount of time your partner expects, with as few errors as possible.

The key here is the amount of time the partner expects. It takes a long time for people to really get this.  You won’t impress people in public accounting by being more efficient, what impresses people are fewer errors.

Imagine you get assigned two associated corps that are budgeted for 7 hours a piece Monday morning.  This means you should finish both files around Wednesday morning or early afternoon.  Lets say you’re a super star and finish them on Monday because you decided to work a little harder.  What are you going to do Tuesday?  You can either do nothing all day – which will make you look bad – or you can ask for more work.  Lets say you get another file, something short though because your scheduling partner didn’t expect you to finish so quickly.  Now you hand in all three files at various times on Tuesday.  Here’s where things are going to get bad.

Instead of clearing review notes for two files on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll be clearing review notes on all three.  And this extra file won’t be taken into account when it comes to scheduling.  You’ll still have to do the files you were assigned for the rest of the week, even though you technically have more work to do now.  The faster you work the more you exacerbate this problem.

Also keep in mind that you will have a minimum billable hours target each week.  If you have files that are budgeted for 35 hours – a typical workweek – then what’s the point of finishing them all on Wednesday, only to have another 2 files assigned to you on Thursday?  Let me tell you right now.  It’s not worth the stress and it will hardly impress anyone.  You’ll just get a reputation for being a grinder.  “Oh I have this file that needs to be done, why don’t we get [grinder] to do it.”  You don’t want to be that guy.

Instead focus on the quality of your files.  Don’t worry too much about going over budget.  It’s not that big a deal and most of the time you’ll have a good reason.  For example – I’m a new employee, retained earnings was off, last year they had a better bookkeeper, the client was slow with information, I had computer problems, we should raise our fee etc.

I’m not saying being more efficient is bad.  It’s just that it won’t impress anyone.  The only benefit of being more efficient is the extra time you’ll have to chill on a file.  “Efficient” usually translates into less time figuring out what to do.  You’ll spend less time looking at your file thinking, “what the fuck is happening here/I have no idea what I’m doing” and more time actually getting work done.

Posted by: LYF | February 9, 2011

What I’ve been reading…

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.  So I’ll focus on the good stuff and list the rest at the bottom.

The Brother’s Karamazov

Sometimes I think it’s difficult to understand how you feel about people or relationships, given the current speed of our culture and social media’s ability to generate disposable friends.  I guess I appreciate people more as time goes on.  Anyway, Dostoevsky is fucking good at articulating and capturing the bonds between people, while wrapping them in enough drama to expose their real grit and nature.  The best part about his writing is the subtlety he uses to describe his characters.  He won’t say, “so and so was depressed.”  Instead he’ll describe a Russian town – which is depressing in and of it’s self – how a character walked through it, how long his pace was, whether or not his face was worn, if he clothes had been stained, the way people watched him, if he kept his eyes on the ground or straight ahead etc.  If you want to better understand people, then read this book.

Crime and Punishment

Pretty much the same explanation as above.  Still awesome.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

This book taught me a lot about resolve.

Kafka on the Shore

Haruki Murakami is my favorite author so I like everything he puts out.  This one stood out though.

What I talk when I talk about running, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Barney’s Version, A Tale of Two Cities, The Brother’s Karamazov, Theodore Rex, Liar’s Poker, Kafka on the Shore, The old man and the sea, Assholes Finish First, Eating Animals, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, A Wild Sheep Chase, The Paleo Solution, What do you care what other people think? Crime and Punishment, Dance Dance Dance, Slaughter-house Five, Rules for Radicals, Kingdom Under Glass, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Posted by: LYF | February 6, 2011

How to create job opportunities

Here’s a quick summary of the things I tried, what worked and what didn’t over the past year.

Pipelining – a.k.a the best approach

Out of everything I tried last year this was by far the most effective.  The goal is to take the contacts of your friends and family – people who can hook you up with a job – and turn them into your own.  Most people know how difficult it is to get an interview without a personal contact.  And even when you have one, it’s still hard because you aren’t actively involved in the connection – i.e. your cousin might tell his boss about you, but you’ll never meet this boss to help influence his decision.  That’s why bridging this gap and establishing a connection with someone on the inside is so important.  It allows you to directly impact the hiring process.

Not surprisingly you’ll start by canvassing all your personal contacts for connections to companies you want to work for.  Then you’ll ask whether it’s ok to contact these people directly.  It’s very important to let everyone know that you’re only trying to learn.  You just want to know a little bit about what’s out there for a newly designated CA.  You’re not there to ask for a job.

Really, this whole process is about building rapport.  Have a list of questions prepared.  Meet them for coffee and pick up the bill.  This shouldn’t take longer than two hours.  Keep in mind that everyone loves giving advice.  And people love talking about themselves too.  You won’t have a tough time trying to convince someone to have a coffee with you, where the whole point of the meeting is learn about them.

Do not ask this person for a job at the end of the meeting.  Tell them you’re looking for possible job opportunities, but you’re trying to figure out what’s available first before you start applying places.  You should ask whether it’s ok to contact them in the future though, once you’ve sorted things out.

The purpose of this whole process is to transfer “insider contacts” from your friends and family to you.  You’ve developed rapport.  Now you can contact them directly in the future.  You’ll have a reason.  “Hi, we had coffee a few months back and I think xyz is a company I could really see myself working for” blah blah blah.  The face-to-face you had earlier not only gives you a contact, it also makes it harder for the person to turn you down.  It’s simple psychology.  It’s easier to throw out a resume than it is to dismiss someone you spent an hour with giving career advice.

There’s a lot of subtlety here that I should flesh out a bit.  You’re not trying to “game” people.  If you don’t put in the effort and do your research, your initial meeting will come off as a con.  It’s very difficult to fake sincerity.  So avoid contacting every single possible person you can.  Focus on what you like.

Using personal contacts

Pretty self-explanatory and everyone is probably doing this already.  Not going to spend time on this here.

Recruiters

When it comes to recruiters use as many as possible – i.e. upwards of 10.

I learned that most recruiters are a quick burn.  You’ll get in contact with them, set up a meeting – usually that week – and go over what you’re looking for versus what they have.  Nine times out of ten they will have something.  Within the following week you’ll touch up your resume and prepare a cover letter, or some other document that the employer needs.  After that, the odds of hearing back from your recruiter hover around zero.  They are very helpful though.  They’ll teach you what’s out there for new CA’s, give you resume and career advice.  You will get a lot out of working with them.

Applying online

Save your time.  Don’t do it.

Posted by: LYF | January 31, 2011

How I took 6 weeks vacation last year

I met with a reader yesterday to give him some career advice.  As we were talking two themes kept popping up – “can I travel as a CA?” and “can I have the lifestyle I want while working typical CA hours?”

I think this is part of a broader misconception of, “I don’t want to be a stereotypical accountant.”  Luckily you don’t have to.  Let’s start with vacation days.

Thai kickboxing in Koh Tao.  My right hand should have been tucked more under my chin.

You should be getting at least 3 weeks vacation if you work in public accounting.  On top of that, most offices will shut down during Christmas – our office closed on December 17th.  Then you will have sick days.  I get 6 a year.  After sick days you will have statutory holidays – Family day, Good Friday, Canada Day, New Years day and Labour Day.

That’s actually 7 weeks of vacation days I could have taken in 2010.  3 weeks paid vacation, 2 weeks unpaid, 6 transferable sick days and 5 statutory holidays.

I learn how to throw axes after the Warrior Dash. Me and my buddy are 7 beers deep at this point.

With all these vacation days I was able to travel to Washington, Madrid, Thailand and New York.  And I also participated in a 5k adventure race in the Adirondacks.

Ballered out Mosque in Cordoba Spain.  I also bought a samurai sword that day.

Here’s what you can do to take advantage of all your vacation days.

1) Book your trips early.  If you submit a vacation request months in advance and no one gets back to you, assume it went through.  Book your flight.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard back from anyone.  Worried about your partner saying no?  It won’t happen.  It will look really bad on your partner if he disallows your vacation request, when he’s been sitting on it for the past few months.

2) Unless you’re having a procedure that requires a doctor, go into work.  Don’t get sick.

3) Check your schedule as far in advance as possible.  This is especially important around Christmas time and statutory holidays.  Nothing ruins Christmas like an inventory count.

4) Figure out when your busy season is.  I can’t take time off between February and April because of our audit season.

 

Getting time off to do the things you want is very doable.

***

Edit: Booked a 7 day trip to Iceland in June and just booked a 10 day trip to Buenos Aires in May.  Baller.

Posted by: LYF | January 25, 2011

Some things I’ve learned so far…

– In an interview, always act slightly more professional than the person giving the interview.  Especially if they start making jokes or goofing around.

– Clients cannot calculate GST correctly.

– By making your desk really messy you can give the impression that you’re swamped.

– Don’t piss off administrative people.

– If you’re not sure about what you’re doing, it’s better to make an assumption and try anyway, instead of asking for help.

– Very few people have a “true” open door policy.

– You can be less professional in smaller firms.

– After you pass the UFE you will rarely read the handbook.

– If you’re worried about what to wear to work, look at the best dressed partner and dial that back 10%.

– Billable hours are a lot like self-evaluations.  You can use them to make yourself look as good as you want.

– Blue collar workers are better personal tax clients than white collar workers or people with professional degrees.

– Make your own evaluations using your time and billing software.  You can use this as leverage when negotiating.

– Staying an hour later has a bigger social impact than arriving an hour early.

– Work with people you look up to because you’ll eventually pick up their maneurisms.

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