(This post brought to you by Alana, the other half of The Six Box duo and the lucky girl who gets to do product sourcing [read: shopping for fun stuff] for our care packages. Click here to read her bio.)
Being a military spouse isn’t just a “fun fact about me” or a “hobby” or just my husband’s thing.
Being a military spouse is a way of life; maybe even a calling.
Sound dramatic?? Yeah, I know.
But before I married my husband, that’s what everyone told me; and I have come to realize how very right they were.
The military demands things from your service member spouse that a regular job just wouldn’t demand; and often times, the family pays the price for those demands.
Add to that the frequent moves, duty stations relatively far from urban centers, and long periods of solo parenting, and you have a recipe for a much-discussed phenomenon in military circles: the unemployment and underemployment of military spouses.
But if there’s anything you can count on a military spouse to do, it’s turn those lemons into some seriously amazing lemonade.
Entrepreneurship - with its flexible schedule, controllable workload, and portability - often becomes the most attractive career option for military spouses, even those who never-in-a-million-years would have considered starting a business.
And so we have the current overwhelming (and awesome) phenomenon of military spouse entrepreneurs. From R.Riveter, creators of American-made handbags and recent stars of the show Shark Tank, to many other small businesses in every field imaginable, military spouses are rocking entrepreneurship and making incredible things happen in the business world.
I started my own marketing company in 2012 about a year before I married my husband, but even if I hadn’t already been an entrepreneur, I would have gone that route soon enough. And when I started The Six Box with my good friend and neighbor Megan in early 2016, we got to experience the challenges of entrepreneurship in a whole new light: this time, as moms, each with a very active baby; as collaborators trying to find opportunities to communicate in our extremely busy weeks; and military spouses with both of our husbands out of town frequently for various trips. Oh, and our day jobs!
In spite of all those obstacles, Megan and I have logged countless hours for The Six Box already, and we’ve made progress that we’re very proud of.
We’re super excited to soon be revealing the August Six Box (shipping in less than a month...aaah!). But in the meantime, I thought we could share some of the “life hacks” we’ve come up with to make things happen as military spouse entrepreneurs.
Life Hacks for Military Spouse Entrepreneurs
Use FaceTime/Skype for meetings
Megan and I are good friends AND neighbors, just a half a block apart from each other. But we both have day jobs, limited access to child care, and husbands that are frequently out of town.
So we ended up with a system for collaboration that might sound crazy but worked perfectly for us:
We set up a standing weekly meeting over FaceTime in the evening after our babies are asleep. At first it felt silly to be FaceTime-ing with someone who lives half a block away, but on weeks when there is just no way to meet together for an uninterrupted in-person meeting, FaceTime in the evening has worked out great.
As a side benefit, that means we can use our daytime work hours, when we’re fresh and energetic, for actual work. How many of my pre-entrepreneurship workdays would have been so much better without meetings?! A lot!!
Use nap time strategically
This is mainly my rule because I do most of my work when my baby is napping or asleep for the night, but the principle might be true for a lot of working moms out there:
I don’t do anything while my baby is asleep that I could have done while she was awake.
Of course there are always exceptions, but for the most part, I stick to this rule. Housework, cooking, errands, meeting up with friends, working out - while these might be easier to do during nap time, since I can technically do them while she’s awake, I always make them our awake time activities. Work, on the other hand, can only be done during nap time, so that’s when I do it.
Use Google Drive for collaboration
Megan has a Mac and I have a PC. We do tons of writing for The Six Box (get the August box if you want to find out more…) which means a lot of back and forth and collaboration too.
After a few days of emailing docs back and forth, and a few compatibility issues, we just switched to doing everything on Google Docs.
This is such a good collaboration tool thanks to the different Editing / Suggesting / Comment features that make it really easy to view a feed of everything that has been changed and to have a discussion on all the little points that need refining.
Plus you can read and make updates from your phone, which is great for moms on the go. Mobile friendly apps enable us to keep up momentum and moving forward even when life is getting a little crazy (so, every day…).
Use Asana for task management
We don’t use Asana for everything, but in times when our tasks were spiraling out of control, Asana has helped us stay organized. The nice thing about Asana is it has built in ways to add descriptions, sub-tasks, etc, but the overall appearance is pretty streamlined. And once you complete a task, it disappears; but it will still show up in search results if you need info from that task later on.
As with Google Drive, Asana has a mobile app that is easy to use, which is definitely a plus!
Get creative with communication
We’ve got about a million email chains about The Six Box going, but we also use iMessage, Facebook messages, and other tools depending on what we need in the moment.
It might seem chaotic but when we’re trying to get work done in the margins of our day, each of us on different schedules and wrangling our babies and other responsibilities, sometimes it’s just much easier to reply to a short text than to draft a long email response the way we would have in a traditional corporate job. And if a text will do instead of a long email, that means more efficiency - win!
Rest when you can
There are days when I work from the moment I wake up at 6am to when I finally collapse on the couch at 9pm, mind reeling from all of the tasks I still have to do.
The combined load of frequent solo parenting, housework, my consulting day job, The Six Box, and other responsibilities sometimes feels absolutely overwhelming.
But that overwhelming load has taught me something important in the last few months: I am finite, and I need rest!!
If I don’t make time to recharge and relax, the quality of my work begins to suffer. My relationships and overall stress level will also be affected, because when I’m operating at a higher level of exhaustion constantly, I just have much less to give to others and have a much harder time dealing with new sources of stress.
So these days, I am trying to focus on taking time to rest every day in little or big ways. Sometimes it means taking a break from work to do some yoga in the afternoon, or going for a walk with a friend instead of tackling chores. Other times it means intentionally closing my laptop at a certain time so I can spend quality time with my husband or read a good book or watch a show on Netflix. I’ve found the key to be to listen to myself - if I’m struggling to concentrate on a task that shouldn’t be too hard, that’s a big sign that I’ve been pushing too much and I need to take a break. Rather than staring blankly at my laptop or a big pile of laundry, I’d rather sit down, do something I enjoy, and come back to the task later when I have the energy to do it efficiently!
I feel like rest is something we never talk about in our society. We might occasionally mention “work life balance”, but deep down we admire people who work from the early morning until late into the night, like seemingly inexhaustible robots.
The sad thing is that this is a fantasy; no one, no matter how perfect their life looks, is a robot. We are all finite, and we all need rest to recharge, relax, and hello - enjoy life sometimes!!
And I think military spouses especially need to hear this.
We are so used to being “strong” and “keeping it all together”. But the biggest “life hack” I want to share with other military spouse entrepreneurs is this: it’s okay to admit that you’re tired and overwhelmed and you need some rest.
Cancel your appointments for the day. Make PB+J’s for dinner. Watch an entire season on TV on Netflix. Whatever would remove stress for you today or tonight or this weekend, do it; and don’t feel embarrassed. The important thing is that you take care of yourself and stay fresh so you can do a good job with the things that matter most to you. Everything else can happen some other time. :)