I have no motivation, but I still have to get things done, just like everyone. Getting things done without motivation is no easy feat, however. I find that my amotivation (no motivation) combined with the other symptoms of depression pretty much glue me to the couch. And while there seems to be a lot of recognition of a lack of motivation and other similar concepts like abolition and abulia in mental illness, there seems to be precious few solutions. But, as amotivation has been my state for many years of my life, I’ve had to come up with coping techniques. Here is one revolving around how planning can thwart a lack of motivation.

‘No Motivation’ Definitions

As I said, a lack of motivation, also known as amotivation, shows up in mental illness literature quite a bit. A lack of motivation is common in people with depressive disorders but also in those with schizophrenia. However, similar concepts are also delineated in schizophrenia. These concepts include avolition and abulia.

  • Avoluition is defined as “a lack of interest or engagement in goal-directed behavior.”
  • Abulia (also known as aboulia) is defined as “a lack of will, drive, or initiative for action, speech and thought.”

These two things are slightly different and are acknowledged to be present in schizophrenia and other brain illnesses (although there seems to be very little mention of these things in depression and, to a lesser extent, bipolar disorder). To me, they are simply a part of a lack of motivation. Because, after all, does it really matter if you have no interest vs. no will to do anything? Both those things result in you simply not doing anything. For the rest of this article, I will simply talk about motivation and amotivation (or a lack of motivation).

No Motivation and Getting Things Done — The Power of Plans

I’ve found one of the ways of getting things done with no motivation is by making strict plans. This has positive and negative aspects, of course, as no coping skill is perfect, but I do find it can be helpful at least part of the time.

Here’s what I mean. When I wake up in the morning, I create plans (often accompanied by a schedule) first thing in the morning. I realize this doesn’t make me unique. What I think is unique is the amount of planning and how strictly I try to stick to my plans (see here for how creating rules can also help a lack of motivation).

A ‘No-Motivation-Getting-Things-Done’ Plan Example

The first thing I do is consider when I’m going to be functional (i.e., have spoons) and then slot what I need to do into that time. For me, I have precious few productive hours in the day, and those hours come in the morning. So, for example, my plan for today looks like this:

  • Wake up, make coffee, and feed cats.
  • When some coffee is in me, take the compost and recycling down to the basement. (This is something I find very hard and something I really don’t want to do, so I get it out of the way first when I have the most energy.)
  • Drink the rest of my coffee.
  • Work on an article for the Burble.
  • At 7:00 a.m., do social media stuff.
  • Complete the article for the Burble.
  • Take the cat to the vet at 8:30.
  • Have an online meeting at 10:00
  • Finish podcast script.
  • Lie down and rest. (I have chronic fatigue syndrome. This fatigue takes over my plans every day at multiple points.)
  • Get up and make meringue (I’ve been trying to do this for days. I keep planning it but skipping it because I’m too fatigued, and it’s the least important thing.)
  • Shower and wash my hair.
  • Make sure everything is set up for tomorrow’s podcast episode.
  • Cook food for dinner.
  • Lie down again. (I’ll be exhausted after cooking and eating.)
  • Clean out the cat box.

I realize this might seem like micromanagement, and while it is, it’s also the only way anything gets done. It’s only if it’s part of the plan that I actually do it. Things outside the plan are typically sacrificed.

Why My ‘No-Motivation-Getting-Things-Done’ Plan Works

Keep in mind, I don’t want to do almost any of these things. I have no motivation to do these things. What I do is make a plan and then force myself to stick to the plan. It’s not about motivation; it’s about following through. It’s about self-flagellation, basically; if I don’t (here’s why being hard on myself is so important). Making a plan is like creating and signing a contract saying I will do something. I must fulfill the contract, period.

The difference between this and your average brain is that your average brain thinks of things during the day and just does them. They want to do things, so they get done. They are motivated to do things (even if they don’t want to do them, per se), so those things get done. While any person may create a loose plan or goals for the day, they don’t tend to do so in such detail and force themselves to stick to it no matter what.

And I absolutely have to force myself to stick to it no matter what. I do not consider what I want to do next. I avoid decision-making. I don’t deviate from my plan. I don’t wait for motivation. If I waited for motivation, things would simply never happen.

The Downside to Plans for Getting Things Done Despite No Motivation

Yes, this is rigid. I know. The rigidity means that when I can’t follow the plan for some reason (like someone cancels on me, for example), I really tend not to like it. I realize this isn’t the healthiest thing. There has to be some sort of balance, and plans do need to change sometimes. I know that.

Here’s the thing, I am prepared to accept the rigidity because it allows me to function. I accept it because it allows me to take stinky compost out of my apartment. I accept it because it allows me to make a living and pay my mortgage. People always ask me how I do what I do while being so sick — well, this is it. It’s not fun, but it is effective for me.

Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting everyone take up my method of getting things done in the face of amotivation. People need to have coping skills that work for them, and for any given person, this might not be one of them. That’s okay. But this is how I do things. This is how I get things done. Take any piece of it that you think will work for you.