Do’s and Don’ts for Avoiding Chaos as an Intern

Interns are notorious subjects of an organization’s mixed bag of random tasks. Even the most integrated intern could find him or herself atop a ladder cleaning gutters. Though most of us take these moments in stride, later relating the story and playing it up for comedic effect for our friends, sometimes the catalog of oddities presented to interns can strike all at once. Spontaneous requests for coffee runs are really just the start of it, especially when our bosses are sipping their own daily blends of super busy schedules + ordinary forgetfulness.

Yep, chaos can strike interns anytime, anywhere. And everyone handles the stress and disorganization differently. While there’s no real way to prepare for these moments, you can minimize the urge to send out rescue flares or run under the nearest pile of papers and cry. Because, pyrotechnics are a safety hazard in every office and wet, ink-smudged papers are always unsalvageable. Here are the basic do’s and don’t for staying above the cloud of chaos:

Do ask for help: I often hear of interns who take the solo approach when the going gets tough in order to prove themselves capable of handling the hailstorm. But this approach can backfire easily, because one small error can throw your whole juggling act off balance.If you work with a team of interns, ask if one of them would be willing to help you out, even with a minor task like setting up a conference room. But don’t just ask if someone will do it for you. Explain that you’ve been given xyz tasks and why you are unable to do that last one. This is part of working on a team and exercising your judgment professionally rather than drowning under the pile all on your own. Having this help will let you focus more clearly on your other tasks, and you’ll be able to pay back the favor later when another team member is in a jam.

Don’t tweet it out: No matter how frustrated or stressed you are, your online followers are not the ones who should be hearing about it – especially if your company, supervisor, or other co-workers are included on that list.

Do stick to schedules: Part of being an intern means you’re learning the ropes of time management. When you’re stuck with numerous assignments, it’s helpful to map out the deadlines. Tasks that can be completed quickly and don’t have a deadline should be taken care of right away; assignments that are long-term and involve other people’s deadlines can be plotted out and worked on in blocks of planned time.

Don’t try to do everything at once: Remember the word multitask? There’s a reason it’s become an obsolete buzzword on resumes. It’s tempting when given a huge list of tasks to just plow through them, a couple or more at a time. But this just gives more room for oversights, errors, and basically a lower quality of work that you’ll be turning in.

Do take stock of progress intermittently: If you are an artist – or ever attempted to be one – you know how crucial it is to occasionally take a step back from your work and let yourself look from a distance. The same is true for work. No matter how busy you feel, making your own notes before you leave or at periods throughout the day not only makes an easy placemarker for when you return, but gives your brain time to wrap around the bigger picture of what your tasks are meant to be accomplishing.

Don’t expect to share a daily progress report: Unless it’s part of your workplace’s culture, chances are, your supervisors aren’t going to expect a rundown of all your work for the day. Whenever you do have one on one’s or group check in’s, choose some highlights from your own daily lists to get feedback on your progress and direction.

About the Author

Karina Briski has been in the world of 9-5′s for nearly two years and has taken numerous internships with nonprofits and small social enterprises in her off-hours to keep the creative juices flowing. She’s in the process of moving from Seattle to New York City this month to put her intern skills to the real test. She also writes a bunch about anything that comes to mind, and her work can be found in various corners of the web, including on a blog that she sometimes forgets about updating. She shares most of her important news via Twitter.

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