Ian Robson is in the early stages of starting up his own company, That Media Thing; here he shares his insights in the hope that you may avoid the pitfalls of the mid-life startup…

So how do you balance mid-life responsibilities with a business that can take over your life entirely?

My own personal experiences in this particular area could very well be just that – highly personal to my situation, priorities, and of course the type of business that I’m trying to run.

But having been fortunate to connect with and share anecdotes and insights with a great many others in a similar boat to me, it’s quite warming to note that that there are a great many shared thoughts, beliefs and anxieties.


A legacy less ordinary

Top of the list of priorities for me and a great many is the very real need to create a legacy that you can be proud of.

You could say that the day your first child is born you have created a legacy. But for me, the real legacy is what that child sees in you as inspiration for a life full of opportunities grasped firmly in both hands.

I cannot claim to have truly lived by this mantra all my life, but my son’s six-year-old gaze full of wonderment and awareness – firmly fixed on me – gave me the impetus to do something different (combined with quite a few other well-timed items.)

“…the balancing act [is to] pick your family and your work moments with emotive motives!”


This overwhelming priority, however, does not mean my new business takes over my life entirely. That’d be pretty stupid given how much importance I’ve just bound up in that boy!

One of the most beautiful things about starting up this company is that come 10 past 3 on a weekday afternoon, I can hear from my home office chair the tiny patter of feet running down our driveway, a firm slamming of the front door followed by several items slung on the floor, heavier feet thundering up the stairs, with the culprit bursting through the office door for a quick hug and update on school.

This may not happen every day – I’m not always home for instance – but while I was sat in my former company’s office I never ever had the privilege to enjoy such experiences with my children. And I’ve quickly learnt not to schedule or take calls from 3 to 3:30 any more – planning my diary around this event is a new priority for me.


Pick your moments

I think this ‘Boyhood’ moment demonstrates quite nicely how the balancing act should be performed – pick your family and your work moments with emotive motives! I certainly didn’t know what these priority moments were likely to be when I first started working for myself, but recognising them when they appear before you – for both work and family – has been made all the easier by being less distracted by the mundane…

I remember when mobile email first entered my life; and combined with my ascendancy up the corporate ladder, I felt a compelling need to check, CHECK and CHECK AGAIN…for an email that needed my immediate attention.

“Now I am setting the agenda for items that may need my immediate attention – no email I receive these days is going to supersede my agenda”


I don’t need to be reminded that it was my own grandiose self-importance that dictated such laboured abuse of a so-called business tool. And I don’t for one minute claim this addiction has completely abated. But the big difference now is that I am setting the agenda for items that may need my immediate attention – no email I receive these days is going to supersede my agenda.

Productive meetings

Mundane previous priorities have started to be dumped on the ‘old-school way of working’ pile very quickly. Meetings, for instance. I’m a social animal as much as the next person, but I was confused that work meetings were a form of being social.

Of course they can be nice and friendly and filled with copious amount of doughnuts and alcohol if need be, but rarely do I actually socialise with the persons I meet up with for business.

(I realise that many of my LinkedIn friends may feel aggrieved at this sentiment, but please don’t as I genuinely do like to mix business with pleasure. But pleasure in a work environment can be the congenial meeting of minds over an idea or even an idealism within the development and delivery of a project.)

There are a plethora of posts and publications already out there about managing a more efficient diary as opposed to a casualty of back-to-back meetings. And when meetings absolutely must happen, there’s little I can add to what’s already been said about conducting them more efficiently. Here’s an idea from Lifehacker UK that brings an ironic smile to my face.


Being analogue again

Part of my work-life balance has been to adopt some of the more obvious things that tackle the time it takes to travel to and actually have a meeting in the first place.

Yep, I Skype more and use the phone more. But I also purposefully allocate a non-generic time slot (to myself) rather than a multiple of the half-hour segments that all digital diaries are obsessed with. We’ve all been in a one-hour meeting that could have been wrapped up in 20 minutes, padded out as if the meeting room booked was your personal territory to own for your allocated hour.

“Relying upon the medium of collaborative cloud working tools, email and the odd clarifying phone call has been the most effective tactic of all”


But simply NOT having meetings, and instead relying upon the medium of collaborative cloud working tools, email and the odd clarifying phone call has been the most effective tactic of all.

Incessant face-to-face meetings (whether by VC or in person) is a corporate poison that I am so glad to have shaken off.

It has enabled me to work harder and smarter in the hours that I do allocate to work, so that I can actually concentrate for decent lengths of time and finish things off. Finishing things off properly is properly achievable now!

I’ll finish this post with one final piece of advice that I’ve picked up from a fantastic book (Life. Business. Just got easier).

It seems obvious, but “only work when you feel like working and don’t work when you don’t!”…I’m doing my best work these days (IMHO); and I’m taking far less time doing it too, which inherently means that I get to spend more time with my family (and friends) getting fully recharged and refocused as to why I’m working in the first place.

ian-robson-that-media-thingIan is the managing Director of That Media Thing, which specialises in client-side content for authentic brand engagement. They create words, pictures, videos, audio and more. For a full list of the services offered please visit That Media Thing.

One way photo credit: Ryan McGuire