How to survive the back to school season for the working adult

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
How to survive the back to school season for the working adult
Credit: © Belga

Brussels can be a cold and wet place during the Autumn. Here are a few tips on how to survive the back to school season.

This time last year I made some serious mistakes in how I managed my work-life balance. I spread myself too thinly and didn’t provide enough ‘me’ time and put myself on a path to burnout.

September marks a busy period in most Eurobubble calendars. We’re facing a new European Parliament and College of Commissioners to lobby, many annual conferences of different sectors in September and October, and we face deadlines in wrapping up our 2019 projects all the while the weather worsens, and days get darker and shorter.

As a professional and life coach and a Brussels resident here are some top tips for surviving the next four months and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to say NO

No doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or unprofessional. On the contrary ‘no’ actually means you are fully aware of your resources, priorities and what needs to get done. Clients I work with are so driven to please others that they don’t realise that it comes as a cost to them. You have limited hours in a day so don’t spread yourself too thin.

Communication is key

A blunt ‘no’ has a poor return on investment. You are acutely aware of your workload and priorities, but others are not. Don’t simply tell your colleague something is not possible; you need to communicate it effectively. Clearly explain your workload, your priorities and propose a time frame when you can offer them support. You may not feel like you have the time or patience for that conversation but trust me it’ll cost you less in the long-term and avoid some tense conversations.


Conference season is upon us. For many of us that involves increased work travel. To make the most out of work travel I keep a travel folder. I print off reports, academic journals and other reading materials I don’t normally have time to read on the day to day and keep them for when I’m airborne and offline. I also keep a running list of ‘travel jobs’ at the front of my folder. I list non-urgent tasks that I can do in airports, on flights or on the train. It sounds relatively simple, but it works as a means to keep on top of non-urgent work.

Find a way to destress

Totally up to you what you do here but stress needs to be relieved. Finding a way of doing this in a healthy routine will help you far beyond Christmas. It can be anything from a morning gym session, lunchtime yoga, a longer walk home in the evening, cooking, swimming, book club, etc. Find something you enjoy that calms you and puts distance between you and your work. Personally, I find cooking relaxes me, I have a book club I attend every 4-6 weeks, I go to the gym three times a week and I’ve recently taken up yoga. You don’t need to do all of the above but just find something that works for you.

Get a Museum Pass

Contrary to popular belief Brussels has a range of activities and museums. While the weather will only worsen in the coming months you can take refuge in the many museums, galleries and cultural spots Brussels has to offer. For €50 you can purchase a Museum pass and enter over 160 museums and 250 exhibitions.

Sun Trip

What bothers me the most this time of year is the darker days. Plan a sun getaway. Go visit friends or family in a sunnier part of the world for a weekend. I’m heading to Dubai to visit family for a week in November to break up winter.

Enjoy the Christmas Markets

By December you may be on your last legs waiting for Christmas, and while it may sound silly, make the most of the festive season to refuel your energy. Visit some Christmas markets on an evening after work in Brussels or plan a trip to Ghent or Bruges. A few years ago, I planned a fabulous weekend in Koln. It’s a manageable train journey, there are cheap Airbnb's and several festive markets and activities to warm your soul.

Brussels is a busy, and often wet and dark, place between September and October but you absolutely can make the most of it.

Robbie Stakelum

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