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The Importance of Routine: A Habits Interview with Mike Schmitz

This interview is one of the many bonus interviews included in our new course, Simple Habits. The course is 25% off until Friday, May 29th.

Your name and a short bio / info about you

I’m Mike Schmitz, Executive Editor here at The Sweet Setup. I live in Wisconsin with my wife and have five crazy kids. I also co-host the Focused, Bookworm, and Intentional Family podcasts and hang out on Twitter.

Do you use a habit tracking app or have a way of tracking your habits? If so, what?

I do! But it’s changed significantly in the last few months.

For many years, I’ve used an iOS app to track my habits. When doing research and testing for our pick on the best iOS habit tracking app, I came across Streaks and never really looked back.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Fortunately, my family and I were fine. But it was still a pretty stressful and emotional time, and I noticed my Screen Time stats showing my iPhone were increasing significantly.

So several weeks ago, I started using a Bullet Journal (#BuJo). The slower pace of analog tools, combined with the joy I get from using my fancy fountain pens, has been really great for me so far.

One of the core tenets of the Bullet Journal method is that you always have your notebook with you. This is made easier with the addition of “custom collections” that cause you to keep everything in your notebook. So, I’ve started tracking my habits old school using pen and paper.

Here’s what it looks like:

It’s not as efficient as using an app, and I can’t automate things like I could with Streaks, but I’m okay with that. In fact, that’s kind of the point! Pen and paper forces me to move slower, which has been a big boost to my emotional well-being during this crazy pandemic.

What are some of your specific habits and routines?

I’ve found great success by combing my habits into morning and evening routines. Most of my habits that have stuck over the years do so because they are an integral part of one of these routines.

My morning routine starts immediately after I get up between 6:30-7:00 am. The first thing I do when I get up is read my Bible. I do this on my phone because I have a shared reading plan with some guys at my church, but it’s taken years to build up the discipline required to read my Bible this way without first opening social media or email. I wouldn’t recommend reaching for your phone first thing in general. One of the things I’ve done to help condition me is curated the apps that appear on my home screen. Here’s what my iPhone looks like:

(Streaks is still here because I’m not 100% sure my bullet journal experiment is going to stick and I haven’t found something else I want to place there yet.)

By forcing myself to swipe to another screen to get to anything else on my phone, I have an extra second to catch myself before I follow the twitch and just go somewhere I don’t really want to go.

The next thing I do is spend some time in prayer, which is the second app on my Home Screen. I also share a prayer list in Echo with the same group of guys I do the reading plan with. I like this app because it sends notifications when people in the group pray for you, which I always find encouraging.

After that, I do stretches that my physical therapist gave me a couple of years ago when I hurt myself while running. After that, I shower and get ready for my day, make some fancy coffee, and then head downstairs to start work.

In the evening, I plan my day for tomorrow using timeblocking. This allows me to hit the ground running when I start work. Here’s an example of what a timeblocked day looks like for me:

I also set out my clothes for the next day in the bathroom so I don’t have to think about it in the morning. Lastly, I’ll fill out my reflection template in Day One.

Another important habit I’ve formed is to exercise every day. During the time when I couldn’t go to the gym, I made sure that I got outside by either running or biking every single day. This isn’t always possible depending on the weather here in Wisconsin, but I’ve only missed it a couple of times. I always feel better when I do get outside for some exercise, which makes it easier to stick with it.

My wife and I have also created a habit of having a weekly date night. This has been a little more tricky lately, but we still try our best to make it work — even if it means our oldest watches the kids for an hour or two while we lock ourselves in my home office to eat dinner together.

The last habit I’ve created over the last year or so is to learn Spanish with Duolingo. I always had trouble with Spanish in high school, but it’s always been a skill I wish I had. Duolingo has a streaks feature built in to help keep you motivated, and I’ve now done it 273 days in a row :)

What challenges do you face when it comes to maintaining your habits?

With five kids at home, our biggest challenge is always time. It seems like we’re always running somewhere, so any time I try to add a habit that takes more than a couple of minutes ends up not lasting very long. It doesn’t matter how much I want to do the thing, there’s only so much time in the day. And the longer the new habit takes, the greater the chance that I just can’t squeeze it in.

Interestingly, I’ve found that once a habit is established, I usually have no trouble lengthening it. It’s the creation stage where I have trouble being consistent.

When building a new habit, what are some things you’ve done that help?

The one thing that is vital for me when building a new habit is to keep it small. If I’m trying to start a new habit, I try to keep it under five minutes if possible. That way I can always find time to squeeze it in, even if it’s at the end of the day when I’m planning for tomorrow and I realize, “Oh yeah, I forgot to do X!”

The other thing for me is to only develop a single habit at a time. If my focus is split, it’s game over. There’s an old saying that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.” That is 100% true for me when building habits.

Do you have any habits or routines that seem to have a disproportionately positive impact on your life?

There have been a couple.

Several years ago, I had the idea to write a book. I’ve never been a morning person, but I started getting up at 5am every morning to write for an hour before heading into the office, and eight months later I self-published my first book. The process of writing that book also led to me getting connected with Shawn and opened the doors for everything I do online. It is not an exaggeration to say that my work life has completely changed because of that writing habit.

The example of getting a full night’s sleep is also interesting to me. I don’t consider this a habit any more, but this is extremely important for me personally.

When I was 18, I had a seizure while standing in line at a McDonald’s. I don’t remember anything from the event, but when I came to in the hospital I was told I had epilepsy (inherited from my grandma) and I would just have to learn to live with it.

I’m fortunate in that my quality of life is not diminished. But since a lack of sleep is one of the things that can trigger a seizure, I am extremely careful to maximize the quantity (and quality) of the sleep that I get.

It is not an overstatement to say that my entire life falls apart without a good night’s rest.

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The new, Simple Habits course includes eight videos and a bunch of bonuses, including interviews like this one. You can get it for 25% off ($29 instead of $39) until Friday, May 29th.

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