Legal design and anxiety management

An interview with Karol Valencia. (Also available in spanish).


Although not a recent term, "procrastinate" is one of the first words you can associate when talking about time management. This can be understood as the postponement or displacement of activities- and even the making of decisions - by others that are more rewarding to us and even require equal concentration or effort, but that in essence are irrelevant to its fulfillment. When the deadline is very close, we intend to finish it with a single shot, and if it goes wrong..., well, the conclusion can be deduced.


The use of time is no less relevant to achieving our goals. Its successful management allows us to fulfill the proposed activities and achieve certain purposes; as well as poor management, it may well bring us personal problems as we devalue our work leading to frustration.


However, according to a New York Times article written by Charlotte Lieberman in 2019[1], procrastination is not related to time management, but rather to negative moods. It is for this reason that problems such as anxiety, depression or any related to our self-esteem, should be treated in the same way as any affectation to health since they have an intimate relationship with the performance of daily activities.


We talked with Karol Valencia, as part of the podcast "The road to legal design: From Padawan to Jedi with Karol Valencia". In this additional space, we talked about the usefulness of design in dealing with emotional problems and the ways in which it can help us beyond the professional sphere.


TSL (The Smart Lawyers): Let’s start with a common characterization of office work. Activities, priorities, and deadlines are handled. On some occasions, the work may spill over into an endless list of "urgent," or a single project that is challenging enough may occupy the entire agenda. Even for a lawyer with some experience in the sector, can all activities be easily developed? How can you handle the deadline? Do you think there are emotional problems associated with lack of timely delivery?


KV (Karol): I think very few lawyers are going to accept that they suffer from impostor syndrome. It’s all part of it. Impostor syndrome is the feeling that we can’t do the things that we’re really good at. For example, if they ask me to do something I’m good at, I procrastinate for a long time, and when I review my draft, I throw it all away. At that moment, it’s already midnight, and I haven’t done anything. In conclusion, not being able to do what you are perfectly capable of, and that beats and absorbs you.


All this causes you anxiety, because you know that the deadline is coming, and this is expressed in different ways: you enter a crisis almost of panic, or suddenly you begin to itch; to hurt your head or stomach; or eat or not eat, as happens to me.

Besides that I don’t know how to say no, and I always try to make the people around me feel comfortable, even within my own community, and that’s too bad. You yourself, firstly, must be okay to provide a good environment for others, that is the right order of things... be okay firs of all you.


TSL: Design and Anxiety Management: How are they related to each other? How did you come to that conclusion?


KV: With design, you realize that you are a perfectionist, because perfectionism is the best friend of anxiety, they are the perfect couple. That combination is not sustainable in time, perhaps temporarily but not in time.


Design taught me that I am not as strong as I thought, in fact before the pandemic I had stopped therapy for 6 or 7 months because in New York it is very expensive. Then my problems got stronger. With teleworking I no longer had co-working with a beer in the afternoon or at noon in a nice atmosphere, now I was in my room with desk in my shared apartment-, because when you share you must adapt. Obviously, all that was increasing my anxiety instead of easing it... that was the moment when I said: "I do need help, please. I’m going to stop".


I looked for my psychologist who at the time could not. Then I contacted another, and I resumed therapy, but it got stronger and I was about to receive medication-something that happened to me in another time but I left it because I was okay. The psychologist told me that I was very unbalanced, and this is more about chemical components. In the end, no doctor believed I had anything, and that is why I did not take medication and we prayed a lot for it to regulate itself, and it did. We continue with therapy, but we do not rule out that at some point it will be given. We use medicine to heal, that is the purpose, and we must normalize it.


TSL: If design could be the way to identify your emotional problems, can it be the solution? How did you achieve emotional balance? is there an identical solution for all cases?


KV: I resumed therapy and today I already feel better, I already feel more stable, much more comfortable, and as you also mentioned exercise helps a lot, there is no day when I do not exercise. For example, today I did not exercise, and I feel somewhat uncomfortable, but I know that I will do it the rest of days until Sunday, which is my lunch day off, but not from exercise which I really like. You have to find the resources you enjoy, it can be drawing, singing, reading, dancing. I love dancing!


I have found that designing is very relaxing for me. Not in Figma, nor in Adobe, because I use those when I have to deliver something to the customer. I love designing in Canva, I’m happy and relaxed, even doing slides, without having to give a talk or something. It relaxes me to play with colors and I never thought I would reach that point of doing something that makes me relax.


As Karol told us, we must not only be able to recognize and accept the problem, but also work on it, in our own way (in addition with the help of a health professional, if necessary). This is part of self-knowledge. Finding happiness in our daily activities can be a challenge, especially when you’re not comfortable with your job; even if you are, it’s not a correlative issue.

"Design not only serves to transform the legal sector, it also serves to transform our lives. We can redesign our lives. Paint or erase, but design."

This is where design comes out of the mere professional and academic sphere to have a real impact on life. Learn, discover and receive mistakes as new challenges; that’s one of the several keys behind success stories. If we follow the story of Karol, we can also use design to improve our life, but how and what, are questions that you must answer for yourself; there is no single solution, a "template". You are the one who should design your life!


[1] Liberman, 2019. Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)”. The New York Times (nytimes.com)

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