Time management for publishing interns

Caleigh Minshall

As my internship continues, more and more projects pile onto my plate: website updates, sales campaigns, onix & pexod problems, reading guides, tip sheets, etc., etc. Sometimes it gets stressful. The problem isn’t that I stress about how unmanageable the workload is, because in reality the workload is completely manageable. I just need to remind myself that I am limited to working 1680 hours by March 31, 2011, as per the Canada Book Fund – so if anything is left unfinished after that time, there’s no expectation for me to work more than those 1680 hours. I can only do my best, after all.

The stress actually arises from the fact that it’s just hard to keep track of so many projects on the go at once, and it’s hard to maintain progress on all of them at the same time. This problem probably afflicts most people and it will definitely afflict you, my future intern friend, so I thought that this week’s blog might be good for outlining a few tricks I’ve picked up to keep my sanity and my projects rolling along.

1. Make a list

The first thing I did when I first started feeling overwhelmed was make an enormous list of everything that needed to be done. I didn’t just imagine it in my head; I wrote it on a physical piece of paper and I’ve kept it ever since. This list included all of my responsibilities as outlined by the Canada Book Fund, including the ones that haven’t started yet (e.g. tip sheets for Spring 2011); all the various onix problems plaguing my existence that somehow need to be fixed; all the sales campaigns that need doing; all the reviews that need uploading; all the website and blog ideas I have … Everything went on the list.

Terrifying? Yes. But it also reassured me that I wouldn’t forget about any of these projects and only be reminded of their existence at the last minute. I also knew that as I finished things, I could strike them off the list and feel good about it.

2. Prioritize.

Once I had my list, I went through each entry and ranked its importance. I broke down ‘importance’ into three categories: genuinely important (e.g. writing tip sheets – those gotta get done, although I might have three months before the deadline starts knocking at the door); urgent (a looming deadline or a time-sensitive project, e.g. the sales campaign about David Carpenter’s Welcome to Canada getting put on the Saskatchewan Book Award shortlist, since eventually a winner will be announced, and then the shortlist isn’t so important any more); and finally, I had a category called well, if I have the time … (e.g. fixing a pexod mistake in a backlist title – it needs to get done, but it’s not very important since the book has already been out for fifteen years).

After figuring out my priorities, I focused on the ones both important and urgent. I didn’t worry about the rest, since they could wait until after I had made some headway on my major priorities.

3. Schedule time for things.

I learned quickly, though, that I can’t spend all of my time on my major priorities. For one thing, that gets boring very quickly – ‘variety is the spice of life’, etc., etc.. For another thing, it’s easy to get so caught up in a project that even if it is, indeed, an important and urgent one, you still spend far too much time on it than necessary and your other projects – important but perhaps not as urgent – suffer for it. I find myself falling into that sinkhole with tip sheets, especially; you can fiddle with the wording forever and you know it’ll never be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to be good enough. (Repeat that mantra over and over …)

One way to avoid that sinkhole is to decide at the beginning of each week how many hours you want to spend – roughly – on each project. I say roughly because, for me at least, schedules that are too tightly defined stress me out even more than not having a schedule at all (ha!). For my schedule, I first decide how many hours I can afford to work that particular week, based on the amount of work and chores I have to do for my French job and for just life in general (laundry, etc.) This generally comes down to between 35-40 hours. Then I break up those 35 hours into chunks – I’ll spend five hours working on a reading guide, five on fixing onix problems with Bowker, ten on tip sheets, four hours on a blog, and two hours on Google AdWords. You’ll see that this schedule leaves a few empty hours at the end; that’s because new problems always come up and it’s good to have flexibility. If it turns out that not enough new problems come up (!), you can always work on the well, if I have the time … category.

4. Balance and living well.

Over the summer, while I was still working in the shop every day from 8:30 – 4:30, the issues of balance and living well never really arose; I had a regular schedule, I was living with my parents, and I wasn’t planning on any major adventures.

Things change when you’re not expected to come in at regular hours to your workplace and when you have the luxury of creating your own schedule.

(Things change when you live in France, too …!)

Now that I’m on my own in France, I find myself having to balance Porcupine’s Quill work with another job, travelling, the many chores and responsibilities that go along with moving to a different country, and of course just trying to make friends in a new city. It’s not that there aren’t enough hours in the day – there are – but often I’m limited in how much I can access the internet, for example, or I find myself working at odd hours of the night to compensate for a day spent in museums and shops. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy, fun lifestyle when you have so many competing demands on your time, and it can also be a little too easy to shrug off important responsibilities (whether that’s doing the laundry or preparing a lesson plan) when you feel too stretched between different projects. And you don’t need to be living in France to feel this way; it can happen if you’re trying to balance a part-time job with your volunteer internship, for example.

This is where a little creativity and enjoyment of your work come in. Although every job comes with its not-so-fun responsibilities, if you’re interning for a publishing house, I have to assume that there is something you enjoy about publishing. (If not, what are you doing here?) For me, the most basic thing I enjoy about the job is reading – books, poetry, whatever – and so, in anticipation of the days where I really won’t feel like wrestling with onix, I save up fun work like creating reading guides. That hardly feels like work and, conveniently, I don’t need access to the internet to do it – perfect for days when I’m stuck at my second job or when I’m on a train for nine hours.

Hopefully these tips will help you manage your time while completing your internship – it’s all doable, you just need to stay organized about it!

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.