What Interns Can Teach Us

A big part of the college experience is the good old summer internship. Internships are becoming more and more important for college students with the job market staying small and the competition becoming stiffer every day. An internship provides a student with the opportunity to lay the groundwork for potential future employment, learn more about the real life working situation in their field of study, be in a real live workplace and sometimes to live for the first time in a new place on their own. Internships are a great way for young adults to continue their learning. But they are also a great way for you to continue yours. When was the last time you stopped to think about what your interns can teach you?

I have the privilege of working with the Programming and Outreach interns at LitWorld, and after one short week, they have taught me a lot. I hope I returned the favor in a great session on time/task management and will continue to do so throughout the summer. So, in honor of the start of intern season here are my top fives. Full steam ahead are the top 5 things your interns can teach you, and the top 5 things I’m teaching interns this summer. Make the learning experience a two way street, as it always should be.

Top 5 Things Interns Can Teach You

Chill out.

Your interns work with you during the day, but have lives after work! Real, fun, young people lives! They go out to dinner, see movies, walk in the park, eat ice cream and have an extra cocktail. While your adult life may afford you less time, what you can take away is leaving your work at the office once in a while is not only ok, but awesome, refreshing and actually helpful to your continued passion for your work. Don’t worry, it will all still be there in the morning.

Get loud.

Sometimes your interns might laugh too loud, talk too loud or yell across the room. They get excited! Really excited! Imagine that?! They get so excited they momentarily forget all of the practical advice they have been given about how to be in the workplace. Get that excited once in a while.

Just do it.

Interns are often given errands and more grueling, routine tasks staff members either don’t have time to do or just don’t want to do. They don’t complain though – they just do it! They enter that info into the database, they go to that post office, they pick up that laundry list of office supplies – they just go and do it. No hemming, hawing or other thought need apply. So stop thinking and just do it.

Bring lunch.

Interns are economical. They bring lunch and go eat it in the park, or at their desks while they browse Facebook. It’s healthier and will save you like $100/week.

Ask questions.

Interns have been encouraged to ask questions in class and are really trying really hard to do well and to get things “right,” so they ask a lot of questions. If they are really lucky, no one has yet told them too many questions is annoying and makes you look or seem one way or another. Hopefully no one ever will – because questions are AWESOME! How many times have you not asked a question because you thought it was a stupid one, or because you were too lazy to pick up the phone or send an email? And how many times did that result in you doing something wrong based on your incorrect assumption? Interns asking questions teaches you about how you manage and the work at hand, you asking questions helps you do things right the first time – and maybe even learn something in the process.

Top 5 Things I’m Teaching Interns

List Management

This is how I do it, which is a bastardized, combined version of techniques from David Allen and Tim Ferriss…and my brain.

Try this, make your big to do list, empty your brain of all of miscellania taking up valuable hard drive space and put it all in one place. This feels awesome by the way, almost like losing 10 pounds immediately. For all you crazy control freaks and type A organized types (no names please), go ahead, make one big list for each big area of your life – work, personal, errands – go nuts. Really, everything. Big, terrifying moster lists please. Write them on paper with a pen (radical, I know), use Word docs, TextEdit, awesome software like TaDa Lists, whatever.

Now, each night, as you wrap it up for the day, write, this time mandatory pen and paper (try Staples, they still sell this stuff), the top 3 things you want to accomplish the next day. These should be the 3 most urgent things, or if no deadline is organically imposed, the 3 things weighing on you most heavily.

Then, go to sleep.

When you wake up in the morning and get to your desk, do not, I repeat, do not look at your enormous brain dump to do list. Look only at the mini-list of the three things you decided to do the night before. Now do them. If you finish your list, and only if, go back to the monster and pick one more thing. Yes only one, you are not totally superhuman (sorry for the reminder), and will be much more successful long term if you remain encouraged rather than discouraged by your lack of progress.


Assigned a large, unwieldy, multi-faceted project with a deadline a month out? Know your habit is to write the term paper the night before it’s due? Try this, set internal deadlines for yourself. Chunk the project out into smaller projects. Put each of the smaller projects on your monster list, and incorporate them into the 3 priorities a day method described above. After all, Parkinson’s Law tells us “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Which basically means, if you give yourself a month – you will take that much time to finish your project. If you give yourself a day, you will simplify the task so as to make it happen in the allotted time frame.

Check your luggage

When you walk in the door to your office, check your luggage at the door. Check your roommate drama, hangover, miscellaneous stress at the door. Smile. This is not to say don’t have an authentic relationship with the people you are working with, or be fake in any way, but know your attitude and outlook effects the overall workplace environment. The same is true for staff members. Plus, when you decide to be in a good mood and smile, soon enough you will be.

Structure Your Time

In a lot of internships you have your set work hours and are given various projects to complete by certain looming dates, but no one is telling you where to be or what to do each day. This is a big adjustment from you college schedule, which requires you to be in certain places at certian times doing certain things. Structuring your own time is tricky for most adults. Here is a quick way to start.

Use your calendar, block off your lunch break. Now you have two big defined chunks of time on either side. Pick two half hour blocks, one before and one after lunch, to check and process your work email and add items to your lists, etc. Look at your 3 big priorities for the day, and block them right into your calendar. Tada – you daily schedule!

Identify a Mentor

Business books are always preaching the importance of finding a mentor. Do this in your internship. Ask a staff member to be your mentor, I promise they will be nothing but flattered, and use your mentor to keep track of how you are doing in the work you are given and as a sounding board for new ideas.

Post authored by Brooke Stone. 


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