What are action items?
Let’s define action items first. Simply put, an action item is a specific task that must be completed, usually by a team or a single individual.
In the management world, action items are what you would place on your to-do list or a calendar so that you can keep track of things that need to be completed.
Action items usually come from meetings and they always have to be clearly documented in order for team members to remember their short-term responsibilities towards the overall objective.
Understanding the general concept of what an action item is is quite simple. Issues, however, may arise when you are not really sure how to organize your schedule or to-do-list properly. For instance, sometimes action items are not expressed as full sentences or lack any details, preventing the action-taker to complete their task.
When dealing with action items, there are three things that should absolutely supplement them:
- Responsible Party
- Consequent action
Note that action items that may arise from another action item as referred to as relay items.
When facing a lot of action items on your calendar, you might begin to feel too overwhelmed, confused and at loss for what to do first. This can ultimately lead to overall loss of production and motivation. Companies, managers and team leads don’t want to see that.
With that being said, the following article will provide a little bit more insight on organizing action items and have your business realize its full potential.
Why is it important to set the right action items?
As explained, action item is a task that once completed can get you closer to achieving your defined goal. When the end goal (especially one involving a lot of people, teams, departments, etc.) is to complete a project, you can imagine how many necessary actions are there to be completed. The more actions you have, the more things get complicated. You may think that this is the case but it actually isn’t. All you have to do is create improved action items.
With the right action items, individuals, companies and organizations can identify a clear path toward the final objective. Used correctly, they can also help with organizing associated tasks in order which creates a better workflow and improves efficiency and productivity.
Action plans make it easier to monitor progress, keep projects on schedule and stay in line with the budget. If you’re working as part of a team and use a tool for collaboration, action items indicate who should be held accountable for what. This way, any delays or confusions can be eliminated completely.
To sum it up, action items are important because they:
✔️ Clarify objectives
✔️ Create ownership and accountability
✔️ Build consensus
✔️ Set timelines
✔️ Bring the team together
✔️ Provide opportunity for reflection
✔️ Provide a way to measure success
How to create better action items?
When it comes to creating action items, there are several things to remember.
- Be clear
When you work on creating action items on the to-do lists of your team members or employees, or even for yourself, you have to make sure that you’re not too vague. Be as clear and concise as possible to avoid confusion and to make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.
- Include specific requests
Think of creating action items as writing instructions. When you write instructions for someone to do something, you wouldn’t just say “sales department” or “presentation”. The instruction should include specific requests and essential details. One way to do so is to use project management tools that allow you to create subtasks or break up the action item into smaller parts, if needed.
Taking all this into consideration, in the above mentioned examples, a better way to set the action items would be, “Prepare a presentation for the sales department, using infographics and information from the attached file.”
- Verbs are your best friend
Always start your action item with a verb. It’s a common mistake to create action items using just one noun. This is not at all helpful or efficient and it can be interpreted in so many different ways.
Let’s go back to our example. What would you do if you saw an action item titled “presentation.” Are you supposed to prepare, edit or deliver it? Nobody knows. The moment you add a verb right next to it, things immediately get a tad clearer.
- Assign it
This may seem like an obvious thing to do, yet many people forget to do it. They spend time writing the action item, listing all the details and deadlines and close the project management tool without tagging the person responsible for it.
Assigning a task to yourself, to an individual or to multiple people should be done right after you decide on the action item, phrase it and put it into the system.
- Don’t forget to add due dates
Action items without due dates are just floating words somewhere on your project management platform. If there’s no deadline, no one will even pay attention to it as team members cannot guess how urgent something really is.
Adding a due date on action items increases the chances of getting that action item done and also tells you how quickly things need to be finished.
- Details are important
You have to understand what makes an action item important. The correct details you add to an action item paints the whole picture and gives the assignee a much better idea of what, when and how to do his/her job.
If we go back to the “presentation” example, an even better way to assign your action item would be, “Prepare a presentation for the sales department, using infographics and information from the attached file, to inform them of the changes of the product.”
We added the objective of the presentation which provides a little bit more context into the situation. The sales department is not aware of the new changes of the product and you have to explain them, which is why you have to prepare the presentation in the first place.
- Determine the next step
Once you’re done with creating action items, consider what are the next steps in the process. By doing this, your team members will get a better understanding of the immediate next step and how their particular task will contribute to the end goal. Also, the next person to do the job can get prepared.
Action item examples:
Let’s think of a situation where we can use action items and apply all of the above-mentioned tips on how to write them properly.
Imagine you’re the head of the sales department at your company. You need a sales report for the current week’s sales from one of your teams. How would you write the action item?
Be clear with the objective:
- A sales report for the current week should be prepared
Start with a verb:
- “Prepare a sales report for the current week.”
Include specific details:
- The report should be about the current week.
Assign a due date:
- The report should be submitted by tomorrow before 2:00pm
Assign a person to prepare the report:
- Assign a team lead or member to gather data and prepare the report.
Are there any important details?
- Specify the format of the report, the information you need on that report, how detailed should the report be, etc.
What’s the next step?
- What’s going to happen after the assignee submits the report? Will there be a team meeting? Do you have to do something else from your side?
Action Item Mistakes
❌ Sometimes, managers, team leaders and members make the mistake of creating action items that are too extensive and broad. In fact, an action item should be considered as the “smallest task.” – a task which you cannot break down into any more tasks.
For example, if you need a project pitch presentation, your action item won’t be a “project presentation.” Your action item will have to sound like this: (1) Prepare presentation slides, (2) Make a promo video for the presentation, (3) Schedule the meeting. All of those components can be assigned to three different people.
❌ Another common mistake is making action lists that aren’t individualized. When you’re working with a team, you can prepare a list of action items for the entire team. However, you should remember that each member must also have their own list of things to do. If you leave your team with a lengthy brief and forget to individualize the action items, this can surely create a lot of confusion. After all, every team member wants to focus on their individual tasks.
❌ Last but not least, another mistake to avoid would be prioritizing everything. You can, of course, prepare a to-do list for the following months, even a year. However, think about the way your team members will feel when they see it. Don’t hand out all the tasks at once. Keep the lengthy list to yourself and give your team members a few tasks to focus on at this moment.
What is the difference between an action item and a task?
We have talked about action items and tasks throughout the entire article. Though “tasks” and “action items” are two interconnected elements of managing and completing a project, there is a difference between them.
To put it simply, tasks are activities, assigned to individuals or teams, that have to be accomplished within a specific time period of time or a deadline. Through tasks, various components of a project are differentiated. Completion of all assignments on a specific task means that the task is completed. Tasks can also be linked together, creating dependencies.
Action items, on the other hand, have a bigger importance in the workplace. The action items definition goes like this: An action item is a single, clearly defined task that must be completed. Managers or team leaders use action items to define a specific task for issues that facilitate issue resolution. If you own a business and you want to grow it, then you’d need to implement action items to keep things on track. They help you figure out what you need to do to get a project from start to finish.
To summarize it, tasks are assigned activities to secure a completion of a project. Action items are tasks that are defined for issues that facilitate issue resolution. With action items you accomplish a purpose while a task is a piece of work done as part of one’s responsibilities.
What are action items in minutes of meeting?
We have previously introduced to you meeting minutes and gave you tons of great tips on how to write meeting minutes effectively. If you’re not familiar with meeting minutes, go ahead and check out our article, “Best Free Minute Template + Actionable Tips”.
Even if you’re well-aware of meeting minutes and have been using meeting minutes templates for a long time, let’s for just a quick second remind ourselves of the components of an effective business meeting:
- Meeting Title
- Names of Attendees
- Outstanding business from previous meeting
- Key points discussed during the meeting
- Any discussions/votes/questions made during the meeting
- Action Items (with an assignee for each action item)
- Further notes / future discussions
Yes, action items are a crucial part of effective meeting minutes. Once the decision regarding a specific agenda item has been written down, the next step is to record the action items. This is where concrete individuals (or teams) are assigned to each action item and given a deadline, if possible. This way, you’re boosting accountability and improving focus and personal motivation.
After the meeting is over, the note-taker should double check the action items and end goals for each agenda point are clear and straightforward so that everyone is on the same page.
Let’s wrap things up.
The above-listed suggestions and tips on how to improve your to-do lists and action items can help you standardize the process of action item creation and completion. That’s the goal.
During business or brainstorming meetings, write everything down so that after it, you can sit down and create an actionable item list with ownership, dependencies, deadlines and priorities.
Assigning action items, tasks and dependencies after a business meeting is a lot easier when you have a meeting management software to help you keep track of everything. With Mombit, you can do all that and more. The free meeting management system allows meeting attendees to check and control their action items. The platform has numerous useful features, such as assigning deadlines, status of the action item and the ability to add tags to help you find everything quicker and easier. Try Mombit for free to better organize your action items and track your progress throughout the project.
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