Why I hate spreadsheets - the Great Spreadsheet Debate

The Great Spreadsheet Debate

This is part of The Great Spreadsheet Debate - you can also read the rebuttal, In defence of spreadsheets.

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a committed spreadsheet hater. I despise them with the passion of a thousand white hot suns and I live in hope for the day when I’ll never have to wrestle with one of them ever again.

As far as I’m concerned, a spreadsheet isn’t a helpful tool - it’s a confusement matrix. Something that was developed by mythological tricksters at Excel, and designed to irritate rather than to inform.

But why do I - and I’m not alone - feel this way? I mean, I’m not a technological luddite or someone that’s too set in their ways to embrace change. I’m a child of the digital dawn and one that’s grown up with increasingly sophisticated technology. I can make my iPhone control my TV so why does a simple spreadsheet give me a cold sweat?

There are numbers everywhere

Whenever I see a fully-formed spreadsheet filled with rows and columns of data, it’s overwhelming. It could contain the easiest formulas imaginable and be suitable for a five-year-old to maintain, but when there’s that much information on display all logic goes out of the window. I find myself putting data in all the wrong places and having to double back to amend mistakes - which wastes time and annoys me. Spreadsheets aren’t going to win any usability awards - I seem to spend hours tabbing up and down a worksheet, losing my place, then having to start all over at the top. And even when I am doing it right, I’m always scared that I’ve made an error, so I spend half my time checking and double-checking the data.

It’s too easy to make mistakes (and too hard to find them)

Lack of confidence in spreadsheet data is a really big problem for me - it’s too easy to just enter the wrong number into a cell and because there isn’t any validation, that could throw off an entire spreadsheet without any warning. If I’m using spreadsheets to make important decisions, that means that I’ll have to get someone else to go through and check my work to make sure there aren’t any hidden errors.

Spreadsheets don’t save you time

Spreadsheets are not magically efficient just by virtue of being spreadsheets - they only save you time if they were well-designed in the first place and if it takes you a minimal amount of time to maintain them. I bet everyone can think of a spreadsheet that’s grown arms and legs over the years and is really hard to maintain, but people still use it “because it’s always been that way.” I bet that same spreadsheet was pretty okay when the first person made it to solve a problem, but somewhere along the line it became a monster that made people like me despair. It’s too easy for people to tinker with spreadsheets and turn them into giant unmaintainable behemoths.

Can’t we just use apps?

I can almost see the need for spreadsheets in very specific cases like finance or tracking simple numbers, but beyond that, I just don’t see the point of a spreadsheet - why can’t we just use apps?

Using spreadsheets to store things like life goals and fitness regimes seems utterly crazy to me. There are perfectly good apps to track these things - why go to the hassle of setting up a spreadsheet? If I need to track these things, I’ll just use an app or web app on my phone - the data is there for me, and I have the info handy wherever I am. It’s a far better solution.

If there’s no app for the particular thing you want to track, there’s still an app for that - Trello is a fantastic way to organise data and doesn’t have any crazymaking cells and formulas. I’d challenge anyone who uses spreadsheets to track non-numerical data to try Trello instead - I bet you’ll find it works a lot better.

The Great Spreadsheet Debate

Do you hate spreadsheets, too? If so, I’d love to hear your reasons in the comments, as well as opinions from the other side of the fence! If you blog about hating (or loving) spreadsheets on your own site, share us the link in the comments! We'll add parts of the debate to our Great Spreadsheet Debate homepage

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