Juliet Funt is an advisor on work and efficiency, as the founder and CEO of the efficiency firm The Funt Group. She has a new book: A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work (Amazon, Bookshop). There, she writes about the importance of giving ourselves open and unscheduled time to think.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Juliet about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Juliet: Being out of the house, ideally alone, in the subtle beauty of the early morning. I find something completely magical about the washed down sidewalks, the stores flipping their Open signs around and the coffee shops bustling awake with the sun beams highlighting the steam from the espresso machine. There’s so much purpose and possibility. I’m usually with my laptop and work with enormous focus and joy during these times.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
I have a problematic reflex response to moments of victory. After a huge win or when I finish a project for which I’ve wrung myself out, the very first thing that occurs to me is that I now “deserve” to do things that are unhealthy. Eating sugar all day or a Netflix marathon are the first things that come to my mind, but I’ve found they are not the gifts that keep on giving. I’ve been trying to retrain my celebration instinct towards rewards without a whiplash effect.
Your work is in helping people reclaim creativity and do their best work. Does happiness fit into that recipe anywhere?
It does. When people have the time and permission to use most of their professional day on meaningful work, rather than on a deluge of emails and busywork, that makes them dependably happier. That happiness then cycles back to fuel and fortify them through the next round of challenges and opportunities. It’s a wonderful circle of benefit when work can feel that way.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
I was a smoker in my early 20s and read an article that said that breathing with emphysema feels like putting a cigarette in your mouth, closing your lips tightly around it, and trying to inhale through the contents of the cigarette. I tried it and it scared me so much that I quit that day, which is a highly unusual switch-flip for me.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I grew up mostly in Manhattan and went to college in Chicago so I never had much exposure to the two things that have become my fast track to peace—nature that’s green and complete silence. I’m not a beach person but any tree, forest or wooded mountain I have the chance to stare at for a while centers me in an unfailing way that I wish I’d discovered earlier. And maybe it’s partly due to being the mom of three active boys, but true silence—the deep, solid kind of silence—makes me feel high with aliveness and calm at the same time.
In your book you talk about “high joy” vs. “deep joy.” Can you help us understand that distinction?
Sure! I help people bring space into their day—open, unassigned time that gives them room to do good work but also the space to make sure they don’t miss their lives. Especially at home, this kind of open space creates inviting vacuums into which can flow two types of pleasure: “high joy” (experiences that make you gasp) and “deep joy” (experiences that reach down into your belly and warm you). High joy experiences can include surprise, risk, passion, physicality, exertion. Deep joy experiences can include friendship, gratitude, giving, peace, and pride. I personally have more natural facility with the “high joy” and need to keep coaching myself to embrace the less stimulant-oriented, quieter forms of fulfillment.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
Despite coming from a family that struggles with happiness, I’ve always been very lucky to have a high set point for it, hovering in “happy-mode” fairly easily. But contentment is harder for me. I slide easily into regret or being rough on myself. So, I need my inspiration to be front and center every day. Years ago, I took a Sharpie and began to write loving, inspiring messages to myself all over the bathroom walls, so that every day I’d be greeted by a rousing chorus of positivity. I saved a special spot just outside the shower for the one I read every day “How shall I spend the precious moments of this one and only today in my one and only life?” My second favorite saying helps me keep my fingers out of things that don’t need me, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”