Short Life Lessons From Brie Schmidt

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Brie Schmidt is a real estate investor, broker, entrepreneur, and public speaker. She is the Owner and Managing Broker at

Second City Real Estate, a full-service Real Estate Brokerage Firm in Chicago. Schmidt is also a Co-Founder at the

Midwest Real Estate Networking Summit, an educational summit for real estate investors.

Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I had a pretty normal childhood. My Mom was a nail technician, and my Dad worked for USPS. We had enough but didn’t have a big house, the latest brand name, or vacations every year. My Dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was 8 and given just a few years to live. Early on, my parents talked to us about death, making the most out of life, and had many philosophical conversations with us. They made sure we tried to make the most of every moment and create lasting memories. He lived another 20 years, but it laid the foundation that shaped our lives. My brother and I didn’t go to college right away because we didn’t know what we wanted to do and didn’t want to be loaded with debt. My brother went a few years later and continued through to his Ph.D. I never went to college and started working at a young age; by the time my peers were getting started in life, I had already held a management position at a Fortune 50 company, had my real estate license, and was making a six-figure salary working at a world-class sales organization.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

That you don’t know it all in your 20’s, I remember being in my mid-20’s thinking I had it all figured out and that by your 30’s it goes downhill. In reality, I knew nothing in my 20’s, and my 30’s have been the best years, and it keeps getting better.

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Real Estate Investing is filled with gurus who can “make” you a millionaire. They sell expensive “get rich quick” schemes and proven systems to take your $10,000 and make you a millionaire in a year. Real estate is one of the biggest contributors to wealth gain, but it takes capital, hard work, and time to build the business. It can be very lucrative for those who take the time to educate themselves and are patient. Unfortunately, many people buy into these programs and only lose money.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it, and what you learned from it?

The eventual death of my Dad was the turning point for me. As a child, my parents drilled into our heads to make memories and spend time with family, as that is what life was about. But I wasn’t doing it myself; I was working in corporate ad sales traveling 40+ hours a week, busting my butt to get my 2 weeks’ vacation a year. When my Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, his life expectancy was less than a year. I told him to take off and go travel and do all the things he talked about when he retired; parasailing in Thailand, seeing the pyramids, and drinking Chianti in Tuscany. He always kept pushing it off for one reason or another, after my brother finished his Ph.D. or after I got married. He wanted to fight cancer, and after 10 rounds of radiation and 13 rounds of chemo, he passed away 9 months after the diagnosis, one day before he was supposed to retire. His planned retirement party became his memorial service.

It hit me hard, and I reflected on my life; I had spent 9 years building a career, and for the most part, I liked what I did. But I had another 30+ years till retirement, and I would be in the same position he was in, always talking about doing things and never doing them. So I decided we needed to figure out a way to have the life that we wanted. We had bought a three-unit property the year before and were first time landlords, and it seemed like a viable path to financial freedom. I had my real estate license from my early 20’s so I started doing research and planning and bought another property that year, and a few months later, another one. Within 2 years of his death, I had eight properties and quit my full-time job to run the business. The next year I bought another 13 properties, started my real estate brokerage business, a website business, and a few years later a conference business. Now I take about 2 months of vacation a year and have visited over 50 cities in 20 countries; I work 25 hours a week and spend every day with my husband and daughter.

What do you do that you feel been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

I don’t always succeed, but at least I try. I might fail, but that is just a learning experience and not a failure to me. A failure is always talking about doing and never doing it.

What is your morning routine?

Well, my daughter just turned one, so my wake-up time is now when she gets up around 6:30. Before I became a parent, I slept in till about 7:30, as I believe I perform my best with a full night’s rest and never set the alarm, so my body wakes up when it is ready. This goes against the success plan most people preach about getting up early and power mornings. But I find I am most focused when I have slept at least 8 hours and am not rushed or stressed in the mornings. Most days, I spend the first hour or so waking up with my daughter and doing small tasks that need to get done before I go to the gym. I don’t schedule any calls or work before 10 am and never after 5 pm, as my phone is on vibrate after 6 pm, and I only respond to emergencies.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

I am constantly reflecting on my life and business to increase efficiencies. A few years ago, I worked long hours and felt like I was keeping up with everything. So I read books like “Getting Things Done” and time management articles from other entrepreneurs and, over a year, made adjustments in my businesses to go from 60 hours a week to 25 hours a week.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

I live by my “To-Do” list, and I started following the “Getting Things Done” method a few years ago, which was a huge impact on my business. The method has been quite effective, and the major takeaways which I implemented were:

  • Write everything down – Literally, everything should be written on your to-do list as we spend too much brainpower trying to remember things to do. Even things like “send email to Bob” or put a dry erase board in the kitchen to write down things to get at the grocery store. It took me some time to adjust to this, but it helped me not stress what to remember.
  • Anything that takes less than 15 minutes do first thing in the morning – It gives you a sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning, and you are already mentally “ready to go” for the day. It also makes the rest of the day seem more manageable as there are fewer things to do. I get great satisfaction by crossing things off my list and seeing how much is done.
  • Break up large tasks into manageable tasks – This was incredibly impactful as I can procrastinate large projects. It isn’t as overwhelming of a task by breaking down the steps and doing them day by day. Next thing you know, I am crossing things off my list and getting it done early.
    Anything not done gets moved to the next week, but only for 2 weeks – So if I don’t get something done this week, it goes on the list for next week, but you can only do that once. If you are putting off something for 2 weeks, you need to break it up into manageable tasks, or it is not important and needs to be taken off the list.
  • Every Monday morning, I write a new list in the notebook – starting a new week with a fresh list helps me feel like it is a clean slate. I have a section for personal tasks and each of my businesses and categorize everything. Every morning I review the list with my morning coffee and plan out my day.
  • I write in how long it should take me next to tasks – this helps me feel pressure to get it done, even though I am timing myself against myself. When you are self-employed and work from home, you can get lazy because no boss is looking over your shoulder or anybody around you working hard to motivate you. Tricking myself into believing I have deadlines helps me get more accomplished in less time.
  • I work only when I feel like working – some days, I wake up, and I am crabby or not focused. When I try to tackle tasks on those days, it takes me twice as long, making more errors. Of course, there are some instances where I can’t avoid doing something, but if I can, I push it off and take the day off. Sometimes, all I need is an hour or two to zone out and watch crappy TV; sometimes, it is a well-needed nap; I reset my mind and attitude so that I am 100% focused when I am working. On the flip side, I wake up super energetic and focused some days, ready to take on the world. So I really maximize those days and power through my hardest tasks first and work until I can’t anymore.
  • I don’t multi-task. I turn off my phone and close out all my computer tabs. I focus only on that task until it is completed. When it is done, I give myself 15 minutes to check emails/voicemails, etc. If something needs immediate attention, I handle that, but if not, I add it to my to-do list and go back to work on the next task.
  • I do not meet in-person or schedule calls without a purpose – I work from home, so my day is spent in yoga pants in front of a computer. If I have an in-person meeting, I need to wash my hair, do my makeup, put on real clothes, drive to and from the meeting. That is 2 hours of my day wasted when a 30-minute phone call would have accomplished the same goal. I stack my calls on one or two days a week back to back. I also make sure the meeting will benefit me and my business. If the person requesting the meeting can’t explain why we should meet and what they do in less than 2 minutes, it isn’t worth my time.
  • I outsource skills I am not good at – I am not good at everything, and I shouldn’t be. When I admitted this to myself and started hiring things out, I focused my time on the things I enjoyed doing, and my business grew. Take this article, for example, I am math brained, and my grammar is atrocious. I am great at verbal communication, but written communication makes me seem like an idiot. So I write the content and then hire someone to polish it up and correct all the errors, so people don’t think an 8-year-old wrote it.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

There are plenty of great books, Good to Great by Jim Collins is one of the first books I read stood out to me. It taught me that you could be average or you can be great. I enjoy understanding the psychology behind things, what makes people tick, why some people accomplish so much more than others, how people get past unimaginable hurdles. I enjoy autobiographies of people I admire or people I don’t know that bounce back from something.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“I do not regret the things I have done but those I did not do,” – Lucas, Empire Records.

That movie is 25 years old, but the quote has always stuck with me.