I received a client’s trial balance, along with some other working
papers, from the client’s auditor. When the email came in, I saw what
the workpapers were and filed them. Yesterday I had to go look at
them in some detail. I was flabbergasted.
In 1988 I took $500 I didn’t really have and purchased The
Accountants Trial Balance (ATB). This was a DOS program that
automated the preparation of financial statements, a process that
might take me three or four days with pencil and paper.
The modern versions of these programs will butter your toast at
breakfast and contact Uber for your ride to the client, among other
things. They are complicated, and each firm has its own approach to
use, which must also be learned.
I’m still using ATB. It was a huge productivity boost when I bought it
and in a surprising way still is today. It does one task well and
simply. It does not do many tasks complexly.
Which leads to yesterday. As I started looking for specific numbers in
the trial balance I had received, I realized I was looking at the
output of ATB, including a (teeny tiny) font that produced 17.5
characters per inch and 6 lines per inch. 
I realized that here was another CPA who had found a workhorse and
stuck with it.
Which leads me to why this series on productivity. The economists
refer to the productivity paradox. That is, the United States has
made extraordinary investments in computers and software over the past
20 years, while the overall productivity of the country has grown at a
slower rate than in the initial post World War II era. No one knows
I have lived through that period at a time-consuming profession. I
started with paper and pencil, even an abacus, and later added a
calculator and then a computer. I saw my speed and accuracy both
However, in many ways, few of my accounting tasks and the ways I use
my computer have changed much since my initial foray into data
processing. So why do I have to buy, pay for, and put up with all
those bells and whistles? I like software for grownups, not a toy
 For those not in the know, green bar paper measuring 14 by 11
inches with sprockets held 10 characters per inch, 140 per line. When
the IBM PC came out, printer manufacturers adjusted to 8 1/2 by 11
paper and offered an additional font (17.5 characters per inch) so
that one did not have to rewrite one’s programs.
 Nonsense. I know why. It’s because (a) the bells and whistles
stretch the learning curve for computer use longer and longer, (b)
because the more we have computers, the more we expect them to do, and
(c) the main reason: those bells and whistles are accompanied by
solitaire, crossword puzzles, Internet blogs like this one, news
outlets, and a ridiculous number of other distractions. It’s the
distractions, dummy. KD, occasional contributor.