Using scales to manage workload and stress

Autistic people often have an innate sensitivity to experiencing stress and anxiety. This can be exacerbated by unexpected changes, challenging social situations and triggering sensory environments.

I’m aware that I can’t influence a lot of what is external to me, and not within my circle of influence, but instead I do like to plan and maintain aspects of my life that I can control

When it comes to my workload, I use various planning techniques involving prioritising, lists and visualisation to best manage my workload, however this isn’t always enough. An unexpected email or additional work can be added to my load, and it compresses the spare buffer of capacity further – often to a point of no return. In some circumstances, this can lead to a shutdown or meltdown, or over time: exhaustion and burnout, resulting in periods of time off work. So what can be done about this and how can we best look after ourselves? The answer is of course multi-faceted and unique to each person.

It takes time and practise to figure out what works well for you

I know that I and others on the spectrum I have worked with, use a series of bespoke scales to plan our workload, which help with decision-making in terms of if and when to take on more work. I like using these practical approaches that make sense to me; I know I can depend on them to aid decision-making when I don’t always feel I’m coming from an objective and neutral place to make accurate decisions. I know I can rely on them.

When creating a scale, I start with triggers and prompts to ask myself around the sustainability and viability of taking on new work. I find this especially useful – even before considering my current workload. I consider aspects such as whether the pay is adequate for the time and energy spent, how impactful the work will be in terms of serving others, how I am currently doing from a wellbeing perspective, my motivation to take on the work and how enjoyable I perceive the work to be. Sometimes I add in other factors, and the point is that the scale fits around you and your needs.

You can use whatever markers you like; for instance the prospect of career progression, colleagues you will be working with, resource capacity, the scope to learn something new, or to follow your passion

You can have as many key factors as you like, as long as they are important to you. Once you have created a list of measurable components that will influence whether you take on the new work, you can assign a score between 1-5, with 5 being the highest for each factor. You then