Why I prefer Pen and Paper for Data Collection

I’m a sucker for data-collection.

I’ve been monitoring and collecting data of my expenses for many years now.
Periodically I would miss a couple of month’s worth of expenses due to poor

Last year, I sought to improve my collection method by creating a mobile rails
app to allow me to quickly input expenses as it happened.

Now let me describe my previous process. I have a spreadsheet which
I fill up at the end of every day. I write the type of expenses and the amount
spent which allowed me to identify what I have been spending most of my money on
and then make decisions to minimize it.


You see the problem yet?

If I have bought a small ‘POLO’ sweet at a nearby mama-shop in the middle of the
day amiss multiple big-ticket items, I probably won’t remember it at the end of
the day. Thus making my expense estimates that much more inaccurate. Over the period of the month, many of such small discrepancies add up to pretty much a worthless input system.

So I sought to fix the problem by creating a mobile app that is hosted remotely
which I can access anytime anywhere and input figures and categories without
having to make too many touches.

You can try it out yourself at:
http://expensr.herokuapp.com. Don’t get too high
expectations though.

Now, fast forward 1 year, I find myself reverting to using a simple pen and
paper as a mode of input now. Strange isn’t it?

For some reason reasons, I find myself less inconvenience when I take out my old
notebook and a pencil to quickly jot down my expenditures.

A mobile app has it advantages of being able to manipulate the data once it is
input. That’s the power of going digital. But there are many unnecessary ‘costs’
to the whole set up.

Like Time.

Pulling out your smartphone, hitting Safari and then clicking on your bookmark
already takes up almost 3-5 seconds.

You then have to wait another 5-10 seconds depending on your internet
connectivity for the page to load. If for some reason your cookie was cleared,
add another 20 seconds for the whole loading process to login to the system

Make a mistake? Accidentally added a wrong category? Whoops, another 10 seconds
to delete the previous entry and another 10+ seconds to re-add it.

That almost makes it a full minute just to get something down!

Phew! That’s a lot of work!

Whereas, it takes just 5 seconds max to take my notebook out of my bag, flip to
the page and write down whatever needs to be written down.

Yes, I still need to write the values down in my spreadsheet at the end of the
day, but I can accumulate expenses and do it at a time when it’s more
convenient. I don’t have to do it every day, which makes my time much more
flexible as well.

So until we can figure out better and faster way to input data like these on
digital systems, looks like the pen and paper are still an excellent life-data
collection tool.