Let’s face it, if you’re starting an internship, your schedule is about to take on a whole new look and feel. And if this is your first internship, you likely have no idea what to expect. That’s stressful.
Sure, your college schedule can be stressful at times too, but a lot of it still remains in your control. You decide what classes to schedule and when, you choose what extracurricular activities you want to say yes to, and you sometimes sleep in and skip your morning class…because you can.
Once you enter an internship setting, you are no longer in control. Projects will be thrown your way last minute, or you’ll be asked to attend a meeting during a time you had set aside for something else. And if you’re taking the internship seriously (which I hope you are), you’re trying to impress your employer with your superhuman abilities to do it all.
However, taking on too much isn’t good for anyone. So how can you set yourself up for success at your internship? Answer: Time management.
Most people understand the concept of time management, but I find that most college students haven’t mastered it yet. Most college students have mastered procrastination. Procrastination leads to stress and burnout.
I by no means have completely eliminated procrastination from my habits, but I have found a time management hack that makes my world run a lot more intentionally. The best part? It’s free and pretty darn simple to use.
Drum roll…….it’s Google Calendar. Pretty basic, right? Well, the magic really comes down to how you use the calendar. Good time management requires prep work, alignment to goals and some blocking and tackling. So below I’m breaking down my calendar magic tips for winning at time management.
Note: If your employer uses another calendar platform, like Microsoft Outlook, you can still use the tips below as guidance. Just note that some functionality may be different.
And if you aren’t given access to a professional email/calendar account through your internship (I wasn’t at my first two internships), I encourage you to create your own professional calendar using Google Calendar. If you don’t already have a Google Account, it’s quick and easy to set one up.
Set goals and plan ahead
I’ve talked about internship goals before. They’re important and you should think about what your goals are before day one. Having this big picture view will help you to plan ahead and ensure you are participating in the right activities to meet your goals. Most internships are only 8-12 weeks long, so a little planning can go a long way.
Once you have your personal goals set, and you’ve received assignments from your internship supervisor, it’s important you look at them side by side and create a plan to get it all done. I recommend breaking this down into big picture, weekly and daily planning.
Start by working backwards with the big picture. Mark down any deadlines and/or big events in your calendar. From there, decide how much time you need to dedicate to each goal or project in order to achieve it on time.
Next, you’re going to budget time into your schedule each week to get you closer to your goal. I recommend setting aside time each Sunday to look at your calendar and plan for the week ahead. New projects and meetings will pop up each week, but if you plan ahead you can find the time to work in the right activities.
Finally, take the time assess your schedule for the day each morning. You should already have a good framework in place from your weekly planning. Pick your big project for the day, plus a few small ones that align to your goals, and identify when throughout the day you can work on them. Understand that daily priorities may shift sometimes. It happens, and it’s OK as long as you continue to realign to the big picture as you go.
Planning ahead may appear time consuming, but I promise some up front work is so worth the effort here. If you don’t take the time to plan ahead, time is going to fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be leaving your internship wondering why you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do. That’s a shitty feeling, so let’s just avoid it.
Integrate your personal schedule
Integrate your personal calendar with your professional calendar. I cannot stress this enough. When you introduce an internship to your life, you can quickly lose track of your other commitments. You don’t want to double book yourself or miss an important event.
I’m not suggesting you put all of your personal activities on your work calendar. Absolutely not. (People at work do not need to know everything that you have scheduled in your personal life.) However, there are a couple easy ways to view your personal and professional calendars side-by-side.
If you happen to use Google Calendar for your personal calendar as well, then this is pretty simple to do.
- From within your personal Google Calendar, click on the settings gear in the top right corner of the screen, and select Settings.
- In the left sidebar, click on the calendar you would like to integrate under Settings for My Calendars.
- Select, Share with Specific People, and add your work email address to the list of people you want to share with.
- Decide what type of access you want to give yourself from your professional calendar (there are a variety of different options for edit or view only).
- Go back to your professional calendar, hit refresh and you should see your personal calendar as an option under Other Calendars in the left sidebar.
- Once you have your personal calendar set up to share, you can customize the color and toggle the view on and off to see it alongside your work schedule.
If you don’t use Google Calendar for your personal calendar, you can still set up your personal and professional calendar side-by-side on your phone. Setup instructions vary by phone and calendar software. If you aren’t sure how to add a new account to your phone in order to view the calendar, I suggest looking it up online or checking with your employer’s IT department.
Color coding and task batching your schedule
Probably my favorite part of Google Calendar is how easy it is to change the colors of items on your calendar and move them around with ease. Not only is it visually appealing, but it makes it super simple to task batch and manage your time.
In addition to managing your personal and professional calendars in different colors (to easily tell them apart), I suggest color coding different activities within your professional calendar so that you stay on task throughout the day. It gives you a quick visual snapshot. A big cornerstone to time management is understanding how your time is being spent and recalibrating as necessary.
Examples of daily, fixed activities to color code:
- Commute time
Examples of variable activities to color code:
- Client meetings
- Internal company meetings
- 1:1s or reviews with your supervisor
- Blocked time for research, projects, etc.
- Blocked time for goals you’ve set
- Work lunches, dinners or events
- Networking opportunities
- Part time job commitments (if you’re balancing an internship and a part-time job)
- Grad school prep courses (I took the LSAT prep course in the evenings during one of my summer internships)
Start with getting your fixed activities on the calendar. Then add in variable activities for the week by task batching. Some will be scheduled for you, like meetings and events, but others you can strategically schedule to make the most of your time.
For example, maybe Mondays and Wednesdays are heavy meeting days. Batch your free time on Tuesdays and Thursdays to tackle specific projects.
Conflicts will pop up and you’ll need to adjust. Don’t stress over this. If you’ve already taken the time to task batch your schedule, you can easily reschedule a task to another corresponding time block.
Here’s an example of how I task batched during a full-time summer internship that I juggled with a LSAT prep course:
I used blue/purple for things I could be flexible with, red/orange/yellow for things that were non-negotiable, and green for all of my LSAT prep.
Some final quick tips to help you stay on top of your time management game:
- Don’t try to remember to do something…you won’t. As soon as you receive a project or are invited to a meeting — get it on your calendar! Even if it isn’t 100% confirmed yet, put a HOLD on your calendar so you don’t accidentally give away the time to something else. This goes for your personal calendar too. You know how easy it is to forget a dentist appointment when you’re fully committed as an intern?
- Clear the clutter. If you have a conflict and are unable to attend a meeting that someone sent you an invite for, use the calendar feature to politely decline it. This is your calendar, it is up to you to manage it. Don’t let other people’s agendas unnecessarily sit on your calendar.
- Keep notes and action items. Do this within the calendar event details or store them separately as an action item on your calendar. Keep it simple — There’s no need to store your notes in a separate tool. I personally overlay items on my calendar with Action Items so I remember all the specific subtasks I need to take action on. The best part is, you can move these overlays around as you go throughout your week just by dragging and dropping them onto the next applicable block on your calendar.
- Set boundaries. My favorite use of boundaries for myself is at night. It’s so easy to turn on mindless reality TV or get sucked into social media before bed. I implemented “Wind Down” time on my calendar to remind myself to shut it down, and get the rest I need to perform at my best. Choose your personal boundaries and set them on the calendar for personal accountability.
Time management is a muscle you have to work. Believe me, I’ve been working it for a while now and I’m still far from perfect. However, using Google Calendar puts me in the driver’s seat with my time. I encourage you to give this time management hack a try. Before you know it you won’t know how you lived without your calendar.