Edwin C. Bliss and “Getting Things Done”

I have a lot of respect – and time – for the work of Edwin C. Bliss. He worked as a business consultant, author, and time management expert in the 1970s/80s (and possibly beyond).

I read two of his books over the past few months. Even though they are obviously dated in some ways, both of them i thought were excellent. (References are at the bottom of this post.) His third, and last, book is on its way to me in the post, and i can’t vouch for it yet.

E.C. Bliss writes eloquently, with humour, originality, and the information presented is well-researched with ample references.

His written work resonates remarkably well with David Allen’s productivity method “Getting Things Done” (2003), for instance:

1. Edwin C. Bliss published a book titled Getting Things Done in 1976. This was nearly 27 years before David Allen’s first publication under the same name. Allen has trademarked Getting Things Done & GTD since.

2. In his book Doing It Now (1984), Bliss advocated dividing a project into “a series of tiny tasks, each of which, considered separately, is manageable.” David Allen, also strongly argued that office work should be converted into smaller steps called “widgets” each of which represents a small step in the right direction.

3. Bliss recommended having a weekly review to monitor work progress. This corresponds to the 4th stage in David Allen’s 5 Stages of Mastering Workflow called Review.

4. Bliss strongly believed in list building and he stressed this regularly in his writings. Lists are the condicio sine qua non of GTD, too.

5. Bliss was a proponent of writing things down (e.g. “A pencil and piece of paper are two of the most powerful tools of time management”). David Allen often talked about “distributed cognition,” but that’s only different in name.

6. Bliss quotes William James as “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” David Allen puts it as “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”

7. Bliss describes the “three D’s” when handling work: “Do it, Delegate it, or Ditch it.” David Allen also identifies three options when processing actions: “Do it, Delegate it, or Defer it”.

I’d still highly recommend the books of Bliss.

Further reading:

7 thoughts on “Edwin C. Bliss and “Getting Things Done”

  1. Hi Luc,

    I’d not heard of Bliss’ books before now, but I intend to take a look at them. I’m a ‘fan’ of GTD (Allen) and will be intrigued to see just how much of the Bliss books has influenced his works.


  2. Hi Ady,
    Many thanks for your note. I’d be interested in your views once you’ve had an opportunity to look at Bliss’ books. I was particularly impressed with his study of the phenomenon of ‘procrastination’ (and the various antidotes suggested) in Doing It Now.
    cheers, Luc

  3. Currently the main barrier to reading Bliss’ books appears to be their availability (or lack thereof) in the UK. I’ll hunt them down…

  4. This author’s name rings a far off bell :-) Off to search through my bookshelves right now!!
    I am also a GTD fan but not too good a practitioner of the methodology :-(

  5. Hah!!! Walked to one of my bookcases and found both books – both of them paperback editions dated 1987! Thank you, Luc, for the reminder about these books which I will now re-read.
    Seems David Allen’s methods were highly influenced by Bliss’s work?

    1. Hi Eileen, I’m impressed with your book collection! Enjoy re-reading the books :)

      I’d be interested to hear about your views on them when you have the chance. Do you think it’s still relevant 25 years on?

      I wouldn’t be able to give an adequate answer to your question on the origins of David Allen’s methods because (as far as i can tell) he hasn’t disclosed his sources / influences in detail. All i can do is point out similarities between “preceding currents of thought” and Allen’s documented methods.

      The work of Bliss i find is very interesting and i think he was ahead of his time.

      For instance, what is now commonly known as Stephen Covey’s “Time Management Matrix” was almost literally included in Bliss’ book Doing It Now, nearly 13 years before Covey’s first publication. Whether Covey was familiar with the work of Bliss I can’t possibly say…


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