An App for That

Inside Information readers offer their favorite nontraditional software programs and apps for productivity and efficiency.

Everybody knows about eMoney, Junxure, Redtail, MoneyGuidePro, Orion and PortfolioCenter; in my and Joel Bruckenstein’s recently-released software survey (http://www.bobveres.com/amember/signup/whitepaper), they led their categories.  The trade press tends to talk about the same ten or twelve programs over and over again, when they’re not updating us on the newest initiatives from the robo-advisors.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, advisors across the country are using a variety of less-well-known programs and apps to enhance different areas of efficiency (personal and professional) and office productivity.  Last month, we asked the Inside Information community to bring some of these unseen programs out in the open, an (d tell us the apps and nontraditional software that they couldn’t live without. 

We received more than 300 replies, covering everything from online scheduling to making it easy to listen to podcasts at your convenience, with a lot in between.  They’re profiled here, broken down into categories, in hopes that you’ll find at least two that fit your needs, which will give you an extra week or two of available time in the next 12 months.

Let’s start with the simplest time-saving apps, which also happened to be the most-often-mentioned in the poll.

Online Appointment Scheduling

There may be no bigger time-waster in a planning practice than playing phone tag with clients, and particularly trying to connect with your 150-person client list on a regular basis to (over and over again) find a mutually-convenient time to schedule an appointment.  They have to check with the spouse.  They’ll get back to you.  They don’t.  If they do, they propose the exact time when you’re meeting with another client, and the wheel takes another turn.

The solution?  Put your calendar online.  That way, clients can consult their own schedule and pick a time of mutual convenience without any work or downtime in your office.  No phone calls; the meeting appears on your schedule as if by magic.

Among the programs and apps that were recommended by Inside Information readers: ScheduleOnce (http://www.scheduleonce.com/), TimeTrade (https://www.timetrade.com/), Acuity (https://acuityscheduling.com) and Calendly (https://calendly.com/).  All of them let you specify times when you’re available to meet (while blocking out times when you’re NOT available).  Clients can also schedule phone calls in time increments that you specify.

Of course, these programs can also be used to figure out the most mutually-convenient time to hold office meetings, seizing those rare moments when every invited party is available to attend.

When you do interact with clients, there are apps to make that easier as well.  Ashley Murphy of Arete Wealth in San Francisco, has aded an app called FindTime (https://findtime.microsoft.com/) to his Schedule Once application.  “FindTime aggregates with your Google Apps calendar,” he says. “If I’m emailing a client about scheduling a meeting, it pulls up my calendar and I select various times on different dates.  Then,” he adds, “I go to the email, and click ‘insert times’ and they show up in the email.  Then the clients can go into my ScheduleOnce program and pick one of those times that I’ve recommended.”

TimeTrade received the most votes in the online calendar category.  “It integrates with Outlook and thus with our CRM,” says Cecelia Brown, who practices in Annapolis, MD.  “We send clients an email to schedule themselves, and there is a button on my website for prospects to schedule their own meetings.  The program automatically sends out a confirm and then, two days before the meeting, another confirm.  There’s also a link for clients to reschedule themselves, if needed.”

Brown opted to have her logo on the program, so she pays $70 a year instead of the base price of $40.

Scott Leonard, of Navigoe in Redondo Beach, CA recently switched from TimeTrade to Acuity, because he found Acuity to be more flexible.  “With the global options, I can set it up so that somebody can schedule a call with me up to 3 hours in advance, or a simple meeting two days out,” he says.  “But a formal client review meeting must be at least a week out.” 

The program automatically sends out reminders that you can customize yourself, along with an automatic ‘thank you’ message that can be sent after a meeting.

Acuity also lets you create your own client intake questionnaires.  When prospects visit Navigoe’s online calendar, the program not only captures their name and contact information, but gives them the option to answer his most basic question: “What is the primary reason for scheduling this meeting?” Clients, when they schedule meetings, are asked: “What type of meeting are you scheduling?”  (Drop-down options: Discovery Meeting, Charting the Course, Staying the Course, Not Sure.) 

Finally, the prospect or client can specify whether the meeting will be in person at the office, via video chat or over the phone.

For a single-office user, Acuity costs $10 a month; the price goes up to $19 a month if you happen to have six staff locations.

Finally, Cindy Storm Fischer, who practices in Brookfield, WI, uses Doodle Scheduler (https://doodle.com/meeting-scheduler) to schedule study group and committee meetings with people outside her office. 

“The program makes it really easy to send out a message to the 15 (or whatever) people on the committee,” she says, “and each person just checks the boxes telling us when they’re available.  The Doodle app cross-references all the responses, and comes up with a couple of times for the meeting.”

Password Managers

You know the problem: you have to come up with user names, passwords and security questions for a multiplying array of online banking and credit card portals, Amazon and YouTube, not to mention you and everybody else in your office who routinely logs into every component of your office software suite.  Jack Firestone, of Firestone Capital Management in Coral Gables, FL says that he has managed to accumulate more than 300 passwords in his personal and business life—and is there anyone alive who can remember 300 unique passwords, much less track your staff’s passwords across your office? 

So you make up a password you can remember, like your last name spelled backwards with “999” on the end, which you use for everything, even though the back of your mind is telling you that if any of your online institutions is ever hacked, then your entire online identity is in the hands of individuals with ethical standards nearly as low as the bureaucrats who routinely scrub out the malfeasances of top brokerage producers from the BrokerCheck database.

Advisors who use password managers are suddenly able use 40-character user names that randomly include capital and small letters, numbers and #%& symbols, and passwords that are even more complicated, and which automatically change periodically.  The security questions, like your first pet, can have an answer that no hacker is likely to guess, not “fido” but the name of an alien invader: X&ls%73Tcqw^u43.

And all you need to remember is one password that lets you access user names and passwords and answers to security questions.

Advisors mentioned several programs that do basically the same thing, including SplashID (https://www.splashid.com) and Dashlane (https://www.dashlane.com/) which works on iPhones as well as computers.  But there was noticeably more enthusiasm for two other password managers.

Start with RoboForm (https://www.roboform.com/), which George Papadopoulos, in Novi, MI, calls “the single best darn piece of software I can not live without that has made my online life so manageable.”

What makes RoboForm so special?  First it picks out difficult-to-hack passwords, saving you the chore of thinking up that alien name.  If you’re able to remember the single RoboForm password, then you can log into every other website you’ve set up with one click.   Papadopoulos also uses the software to fill out the contact information for himself or clients onto forms with a single click.

But Papadopoulos strongly encourages you to make sure you remember RoboForm’s one master password.  “Forget that and you’re screwed,” he says.

Others recommended LastPass (www.lastpass.com), which can be used in a team environment.  The CCO (or company principal) can require each person on the team to reset passwords, and the team can share passwords for certain websites.

“We purchased the enterprise version so I can monitor the strength of the passwords and establish minimum password requirements across the company,” says Scott McLeod, CEO of Brown Financial Advisor in Fairhope, AL.  “It was very easy to roll out and just as easy to implement,” he says, adding: “For the price-to-productivity ratio, this is easily the best money I have spent. I just wish I had done it sooner.”

Scott Cole, of Cole Financial Planning in Birmingham, AL adds that, in addition to strong, unique passwords for everything, LastPass allows him to add PIN numbers along with any other online ID information that he needs to keep secure and may access so infrequently that he can’t remember them.  

“I get the premium edition and it syncs across all devices,” he says, adding: “As long as there are passwords, I will always be using LastPass.”

Time Tracking

Is the profession evolving away from the AUM revenue model toward a pricing scheme that reflects the actual work performed on behalf of the client?  If it is not, then this will be the first profession in history that sets its fees based on the heft of the customer’s wallet.

But how do you know how much time you and your staff are spending on different clients?  Or on mundane tasks like entering data into different softwares?  Or taking those one-off calls from clients who just want to “check in?” 

The obvious answer is to track your time, but who wants to write down everything they do, who they’re doing it for, and how long it took?

Several advisors are using relatively automated time tracking software, including Timeslips (http://www.sage.com/us/sage-timeslips), Tsheets (https://www.tsheets.com/) and Toggl (https://toggl.com/), to not only capture time spent working on behalf of different clients and projects, but automatically create invoices for clients if you’re doing hourly work.

“Toggl tracks my time on each client project and each business task,” says Skip Fleming, of Lodestar Financial Planning in Colorado Springs, CO.  “I set up categories for tasks that I can assign to any task,” he adds, “which allows me to see how much time I’m spending on client work, billable or non-billable, and how much time on other things like marketing, bookkeeping, strategic planning, or CE.  Sadly,” he says, “it only works if I remember to turn it on and then review the report weekly.”

Javaid Ansari of Compak Asset Management in Newport Beach, CA reports that his company uses Tsheets as the company’s time clock for hourly employees.  The program will also allow staff to track their time on different tasks or different clients.

Mileage Tracking

You drive to work, and on the way you stop at the post office to drop off your quarterly reports.  You drive to lunch with a client, pick up your dry cleaning on the way back to the office, and at the end of the day, you stop at the grocery store on the way home.  How much of that day’s car mileage can be allotted to business travel? 

Multiply that by 280 workdays and chances are you’re guessing a lot when it comes time to do your taxes.

MileIQ (https://www.mileiq.com/) is your solution.  An app that you can download for free from either the Apple App Store or Google Pay (you can upgrade to a more feature-rich paid version for $59.95), MileIQ will use your phone’s WiFi or GPS to automatically track mileage every time you get in the car. 

“It gives you precision down to a tenth of a mile,” says Susan Pack at Pomeroy Financial Planning in Cincinnati.  “There is a lag (a few minutes) before you see your miles in the app because it has to figure out that you’ve arrived and not simply stopped at a traffic light.  Once the miles have been calculated, you swipe to categorize.”

Reports are available on-demand.  You touch “send report” and the report is sent to the email address on file.

Document tracking

You saw a report the other day.  It’s somewhere on your computer, but there are a LOT of reports on your computer.  How do you find that particular one?

Bill Dix, of Beacon Financial Strategies in Raleigh, NC doesn’t feel like he needs an industrial-strength document management system when he has X1 (http://www.x1.com/), a $50/yr. program installed on his computer.  “I literally could not get through the day without it,” he says.

What does X1 do, exactly?  If I can remember anything in a document or email, X1 will find it,” Dix says.

Karen McGarvey in East Alton, IL uses a Microsoft tool called Everywhere for the same purpose.  “I hit Function F3 and it brings up a window where I can type in any app, file or setting I want to search for anywhere in the Windows system,” she says.  “It saves me time in having to drill down into folders to where that document is saved.”

Email Management

Of course, the messiest pile of documents on your computer is your email account.  Is there a way to organize those messages in a way that streamlines your workday?

Ian McLeod, who practices in San Francisco, uses a Gmail add-on called ActiveInbox (activeinboxhq.com) to help him organize tasks.  The program lets him assign each email to a project, client or a task.  He can also tag emails with re-useable tax or directions, emails with passwords and contact information.  With one click, he can view previous conversations with the person he’s sending to or regarding the topic he’s writing about.

Gil Hanoch, in La Jolla, CA, used to create topic folders so he could organize all the emails that he was sending and receiving, but the process became unwieldy.  “The issues with folders is that you cannot label one email with two labels or put it into two folders,” he says.  “I wanted to be able to look chronologically at every file in different categories.

The solution?  An Outlook plugin called CategorizePlus (http://www.veranosoft.com/Purchase-Categorize-Plus.html) which comes with a one-time cost of around $30.  If an email relates to one of Hanoch’s clients, then that’s one of the tags.  Within Outlook, he’ll click the CategorizePlus button, and a list of clients and categories appears on the side of the screen.  He can also check “regulatory and compliance” or one of his vendors, and keep adding tags to the same message. 

In addition, Hanoch will tag different planning issues and topics that clients ask about.  When a client asks a question that Hanoch has answered for ten different clients before, he can do a quick search on the topic and copy and paste what he has written to other clients.

At his San Francisco office, Murphy relies on a gMail and Outlook add-on called Yesware (http://www.yesware.com/). “Let’s say I’m sending you an email to follow up about something or other, and I want to be reminded that we’ve communicated,” he says.  “I can have Yesware remind me in an hour, two hours, in a day, in a week, whenever.  The reminder will pop up in my email inbox at that time, with this little note, and bring the email that I sent you up to the top.”

This reminder will only show up if there is no reply to the original message.  “If you had replied, then it wouldn’t remind me,” says Murphy.  “The reminder would be null and void.”

Yesware also allows Murphy to see whether the recipient has opened an email.  “I can track where and when my clients have opened my messages, to know that they actually received that communication,” Murphy says.  “It does that in the background,  automatically.”

Of course, these days, you’re not just answering emails on your computer.  You’re using your phone or tablet away from the office.  Hanoch uses gSyncit (http://www.fieldstonsoftware.com/software/gsyncit4/), so that whenever he moves an email to a folder using his phone or tablet, the same thing happens in the email account on his computer.  Same with answering emails.  The program also synchronizes the calendar entries he makes at the office and on his mobile devices.

Personal Organization

How do you stay on top of everything?  Any small business has a lot of paper moving around, plus new ideas that you want to stay on top of, along with to-do lists and all sorts of things you have to remember.  Is there any easy-to-use relief from all the complexities of your business life?

Most of you are familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the classic productivity book which, among other things, recommends that you get all that stuff out of your memory and onto paper lists.  What you may not know is that two personal Getting Things Done-related productivity tools have been developed to replace the paper lists.

Victor Garza, of Amicus Financial Advisors in Richardson, TX, is such a fan of Getting Things Done that he trains his staff on GTD principles.  He’s also a fan of OmniFocus (https://www.omnigroup.com/omnifocus), a Mac/iPad-based productivity-enhancer that serves as the one container for all your to-dos (work and personal) and projects. “OmniFocus lets you see your work in a variety of ways,” he says.  “Each perspective is designed for something specific: planning, doing, checking on your upcoming day, and more.”

Allen’s book also inspired an app called Nozbe (https://nozbe.com), which works on the Mac, in Windows and in the Android and iPad ecosystems. 

“You can track tasks for projects, create different categories, and the best feature is it has a calendar view so you can look at what needs to be done today,” says Janet Tyler Johnson, in Blanchardville, WI, author of Finding Financial Fulfillment.  “It syncs with iCal [calendaring] and sends me alerts on what needs to be done so I don’t have to go to it; it comes at me.  Anything I need to remember goes in there with a due date, reminders, and tasks can repeat,” she adds.  “Of all the task managers I’ve tried I’ve stuck with this one.  It’s been totally reliable. I don’t know how I’d live without it.”

Graig Stettner of Strategence Capital in Fort Wayne, IN uses a to-do list app called Todoist (http://www.Todoist.com) which he can access on his smartphone, mobile device or desktop.  He’s connected the program to Redtail using Zapier, another app that helps different programs talk and respond to each other.  The reminders can come from Redtail or Todoist.

Speaking of reminders, there are several programs that specialize in helping you remember when something needs to be handled.  Rick Kahler, of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, SD has become dependent on an app called Alarmed (http://yoctoville.com/alarmed-app-details) which is a blend of highly-customizable alarm clock and your to-do list—and which also works with Siri on your iPhone.  You can discern the nature of the task to be performed merely by the sound of the alert.  It will continue to remind you at intervals you specify until you mark the task as completed.  

“It’s the most helpful and productive app on my mobile devices aside from texting and email,” says Kahler.  He uses it to remind him to call people back, along with reporting deadlines, webinars, medical questions to ask his doctor, even a reminder to take his vitamins.  “I’ve set it for routine blogging and posting reminders, ordering supplies on certain days when there are standing discounts, and deadline reminders for early bird specials to conferences,” he adds.

If you prefer an alternative, consider FollowUpThen (https://www.followupthen.com/), which Carolyn McClanahan, of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, FL uses to clear out her email box.  “If I need to work on something due to an email in the future, I just send it to FollowUpThen and it sends it back to me at a designated time in the future,” she says.  “I can also send myself reminders, including recurring reminders.”

Maybe you just want to put a note on the documents that flow past your desk, without having to create a new email or memorandum or (heaven forbid!) print out the document and write your note on it in longhand before sending it through the office memo system.

Trello (https://trello.com/) is a web based app that lets you place electronic sticky notes on client forms to indicate where they should be signed, or on documents that you’ve approved or want to have changed or fixed. 

You can also use the program for brainstorming.  Just put up a blank page and let everybody throwing their own ideas up on the board in a group scenario planning session, where the organizer can rearrange the sticky notes into groups and categories.

Interestingly, the most often-cited productivity tools were the expanded note-taking (and tracking) programs, including Evernote (https://evernote.com/) and Microsoft OneNote (http://www.onenote.com/).

“My mantra is ‘when in doubt send it to Evernote,’” says Brian Whalen, who practices in Gainesville, GA.  “I probably send at least 3 items a day.”

Whalen collects quotes; whenever he sees a good one it will be sent to Evernote.  Blog ideas are sent over to the app (“If I wait to write it down I’ll forget it”), and whenever he pays bills or receives receipts, he’ll snap a picture on his phone of the confirmation number and send it to Evernote. 

“I’m a huge believer in the fact that our brain functions best if we purge it routinely,” says Whalen.  “Evernote is my purge mechanism.”

Brian Sells, of Peak Financial advisors in Denver, CO prefers OneNote on his iPad pro, for note taking at conferences and also for personal organization.

Troy Daum, of Wealth Analytics in San Diego, CA uses OneNote as a collaboration tool with his team.  “I like that it is available on all devices,” he says.  For his personal/professional use, the program functions as a go-to place for the many things he needs to accomplish in a day.  

“I have broad folders for things like: Home, Travel, Work, Client Meeting Notes (which are taken on an iPad and transferred to Junxure), Conferences, Projects, FPA, Orion, and Rotary,” he adds.  “Each is split into multiple sub-folders.  For example, the work folder covers such things as staff, training, IT, reviews, HR, IM and FP to name a few.”

OneNote is also a way to create various to-do lists; normal things like check emails twice per day and exercise, and more unusual reminders that Daum uses, like remember to compliment others, reflect on gratitude, and try to give back to something or someone every day.

“Everything I need to do both personally and professionally is in one place,” says Daum.  “It is all digital, easy to share and available wherever I am.  I never need paper,” he adds.  “I don’t have to look too many places for what I need to get done.  I have been using the program for two years, and I’m not sure how I would live without it.”

Notes and Dictation

When did it become so important for a financial planner to be able to type rapidly and accurately?  Whether it’s typing emails or followup notes to clients, writing market outlooks for performance reports, blogging, updating social media accounts or entering client data onto forms and into software, it seems like the CFP curriculum should include advanced keyboarding requirements.

Or should it?  A number of advisors have figured out to cut down on the keystrokes—or avoid them altogether.

Dave O’Brien uses an iPhone app called TalkIt (http://mobileassistant.us/talkit/) to reduce his time behind the keyboard.  “After a client meeting, we dictate what happened and our ‘to do’ items into our iPhone Talk It app,” he says.  “It gets transcribed within 24 hours by a real person and sent to us in email.  Our assistant puts it in the CRM.”

Meanwhile, some advisors might be surprised to learn that Dragon NaturallySpeaking (http://www.nuancesoftwarestore.com/dragon-naturallyspeaking-premium/) has become far more accurate and reliable than the clumsy early versions. 

“I can dictate my notes after a meeting while still fresh in my short-term memory,” says Skip Fleming.  “Then I can go back later and edit the notes before cutting and pasting into my CRM.” 

“It saves hours per week,” says Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network.

Have you ever looked back over your notes from a client meeting and there was a section where you’re not sure exactly what was said based on what you wrote?  Brooke Salvini, of Salvini Financial Planning in Avila Beach, CA takes her client notes using a LiveScribe Pen (http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/)—the “old fashioned way,” as she puts it.  “The pen auto-records the meeting,” she says.  When you come across a place where you want to know more, you touch that spot in your notes and the pen plays back the audio from that moment.

“If I need a meeting transcribed,” adds fellow LiveScribe Pen user DeDe Jones of Innovative Financial in Lakewood, CO, “I can refer to the electronic notes and replay relevant portions of the audio.  Clients love that we care enough to track conversations so closely,” she adds.

Blogging Made Easy

Chances are, you use a word processing program for writing or editing blogs.  But does your word processor integrate with your website?

Hanoch, in La Jolla, is probably not the only advisor who uses WordPress for the blog on his website.  Every couple of weeks, he has to post something on the administrative back office of his site.  But he doesn’t actually have to visit the dark recesses of WordPress to publish his blogs.

He composes in Open Live Writer (http://openlivewriter.org/)—which, he says, is similar to working in MS-Word, but more powerful.  “It’s basically a word processing program dedicated to blogs,” says Hanoch.  “You give it your website credentials, and then any post you write, you can just hit one button and publish it.  Or set a time for you to publish at some point in the future.”  The program is not specific to WordPress, he adds; you can use it with other webpage blogging software.

Text On Demand

Do you ever find yourself typing something, and then later retyping essentially the same text?  It could be your own email address, a disclaimer paragraph, client names and addresses or just the phrase “thank you very much.”

Murphy and O’Brien use a program called TextExpander (https://textexpander.com/).  With TextExpander, you can type something, and then create a keyboard shorthand for that exact text, so that whenever you type three or four code letters, the full text will appear.  Think of it as having a customized pasteboard.  Murphy keeps template letters on file, either explaining financial issues or concepts, paragraphs asking clients to complete their fact-finders, email addresses, referrals to outside accountants and attorneys, and even his Delta frequent flyer mile number.  This serves two purposes; it saves keystroking, and allows him to continually improve the quality of these messages over time, as he looks them over before sending and makes modifications.

Of course, you want your triggering letter sequence to be something that wouldn’t show up in your normal typing.  Murphy’s sequences tend to end in a ‘+’ sign, which is a symbol he rarely types, and almost never right after other letters.

Suppose you’ve forgotten the exact sequence to bring up the text you want?  Touch a button and you can call up a box that shows all the text templates and the abbreviation for each of them.

Robert Pyle, of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. in Boulder, CO uses PhraseExpress (http://www.phraseexpress.com/) for exactly the same function.  “You can have a whole client letter assigned to just one key,” he says.

Podcast Convenience

You missed the live version of that podcast that looked really interesting, but these days most of them are posted on the company website for you to listen to at your convenience.  But when IS your convenience?  When you’re sitting at your desk, a hundred other things are clamoring for your attention.

Your convenience is in your car, when you’re cooking dinner, when you’re working out on the treadmill—but you don’t have your computer with you at those times.

What to do?

Try Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/) and let it open up a whole new world of content at your convenience. 

“Stitcher has been a life-changer for me,” says Pack at Pomeroy Financial Planning.  “It which works seamlessly on my Android phone, my iPad and my home sound system.”

Pack can turn on Bluetooth in the car, choose a podcast from a “station” she’d previously saved, and listen to the newest Michael Kitces podcast while driving.  “I didn’t finish it, so tonight when I go for a walk I’ll take my phone and ear buds and listen, or listen on my iPad or Sonos [the home sound system] while I prep dinner,” she adds.

Once you have an account you can put the app on any compatible device, sign-in and Stitcher knows it’s you and syncs your personal choices (stations, favorites playlist, listen later list, etc). You can add stations or podcasts from any signed-in device.  “Think of each device as a remote control,” says Pack.  “Through the computer, Stitcher is a website.  Though the iPad and Android phone it’s an app. Within Sonos (an app and hardware) Stitcher is a an app within an app.  I use my iPad or phone to open the Sonos app, navigate to the sidebar where my “stations” are located (Pandora, iHeart Radio, iTunes music, Stitcher), select Stitcher, select Favorites, then choose the podcast and play.”  You can search for SEI, Advisor Websites or Kitces to see what’s posted and select what you want Stitcher to put in the favorites category.

Social Security and Taxes

You might be surprised to know that you don’t have to buy expensive software to do Social Security planning, determine the value of your clients’ savings bonds or evaluate whether a client would benefit from installing solar panels on the roof. 

Jean Fullerton, of Milestone Financial Planning in Bedford, NH is a collector of government-based tools, and her favorites list includes the Social Security Retirement Calculator (http://socialsecurityretire.org/how-to-use-the-social-security-retirement-calculator/), from the government Social Security Administration, as a way to determine the optimal way for clients to claim their Social Security benefits. 

Another government app, AnyPIA (https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/anypia/anypia.html) lets you perform ‘what if’ analyses.  How would a client’s benefits change if she worked five more years?  How much would it change if Fullerton submitted documents to fill in a missing year?

Fullerton also uses TaxTools (https://www.taxtools.com/Default.aspx) which performs simplified tax analysis for clients—and, she emphasizes, is NOT for tax preparation. She’ll use TaxTools to determine how much cap gains a client can take and still remain in the 15% bracket.  Or whether the client will be subject to Medicare premium surcharges this year.

Anything else?  Fullerton uses Savings Bond Wizard (https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/tools/tools_savingsbondwizard.htm)—which is free from the government—to determine the current value of her clients’ savings bonds.  And she uses the free Google Sunroof software (https://www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0) to determine if clients would benefit from paying for solar panels on their home.

Freedom From Distractions

Elliott Weir, who practices in Cedar Park, TX, uses Brain.fm (https://www.brain.fm/) to enhance his productivity and improve his focus when working on tasks.  He works at home, where there is noise and distractions.  So he puts on his headphones and logs into Brain.fm, which provides “music for the brain” in different flavors: meditation, relaxation and (the one you’re probably interested in) focus.  The music has a scientific basis for helping to unlock the brain and influence cognitive states.  It’s worth a try.

Amazingly Versatile App

Finally, Roy Ballentine, of Ballentine Partners in Wolfboro, NH and Boston, MA, suggests that you consider an app that combines simplicity with the ability to handle any combination of text, graphics and other data with equal ease and facility.  You can mark data that needs to be looked at later, and the data retrieval is simple and fast, using the date as an index system.

“If you can remember when something happened, you can find your notes within seconds,” says Ballentine.

In addition, the app instantly powers on with no delay, it’s lightweight and compact, easy to travel with and has never, in its history, suffered from a dead battery just when you need it.  There is never a loss of data once the data is entered, or a risk of crash.  The app cannot be hacked if kept in a secure location.

The app is called: an 81/2 x 11” spiral notebook plus a pen.  

“I’ve tried all types of systems and that is the one that works best for me,” says Ballentine.  “Most of our staff has adopted it also.  Every note I need to write down goes into the notebook, including all client notes, practice management, personal reminders, etc.  Everything is in one place.  All of my daily To Do lists are in there, which make it very unlikely that any item will ever get lost.  It’s easy to review my daily notes and To Do lists and make sure I’m not forgetting anything.”

Only truly advanced, tech-savvy users will be able to master this technology right out of the box.