An action item list is an important tool for task management. Without an action items list, you could very easily overlook important tasks that need to be accomplished or go about your day quite inefficiently.
Using an action item list, however, doesn’t automatically make task accomplishment easier. It’s not uncommon to find teams that end their workday with pending actionable tasks on their to-do lists.
If you or your team are struggling with task deadlines, we will show you how to overcome this problem by creating better action items lists. We will also introduce you to a tool called Aira, that eliminates the hustle of minute taking and plans your action items for you.
Before we go into that, let’s first define “action item”.
What Is an Action Item?
During meetings, team members come up with tasks. A couple of steps need to be taken for that task or project to move smoothly. Those steps are called action items. Each action item has a person assigned to it, and that person is responsible for completing it.
The completion of each action item moves the project closer to a specified deadline (you could envision this as a finish line). To accomplish all project tasks, you must complete every action item properly and on time. For this to happen, you must set action items to properly. This means:
- Every team member knows exactly what they are required to do
- Each member can easily monitor and track project progress
- Keeping deadlines realistic hence easy to meet
- As a result, productivity will be high as tasks will be more seamlessly completed
It’s not enough to have the intention to complete a task Even merely stating that things need to get done doesn’t necessarily mean that they will get done. With an action item list, you create a map that will guide you towards your success by following simple steps.
What should an Action Item List look like?
At this point, you are probably wondering what a good action item list looks like. To answer that question, let’s consider an example of what your action items shouldn’t look like:
Example: Sample action item list
- Vendor shortlist
- Purchase models
- Sales meeting
So, what’s wrong with this list?
For starters, it is vague. It’s difficult to know what those details mean. In fact, it looks just like any other list.
Great action items should be
- Clear: Complete and well-stated to remove vagueness
- Easy to understand and manage
Here’s how to create an action item list that has these qualities.
The 7 rules that will help you create better Action Items from meetings
Rule 1: Tasks aren’t action items
A list like the one in the example above is made up of tasks. Each of these tasks is accomplished by taking a series of steps.
To make tasks actionable, you need to figure out the what, who and when of each task:
E.g Vendor search:
- What steps exactly, need to be taken?
- Who will take those steps?
Rule 2: Use verbs
Verbs are action words. “Vendor shortlist” on its own doesn’t say much. However, when stated as “prepare a vendor shortlist”, that gives a clearer picture of what needs to be done.
Using verbs not only defines what needs to be done, but also makes you mentally ready to take action.
Verbs also make it easier to recall details of tasks, which is important when handling projects that contain multiple or complex tasks.
Rule 3: Make them SMART
Teams that work with all the information they need are more likely to complete their tasks than teams that don’t. When you make your action items SMART, it means that you have included as much information as possible to make them specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound.
An added advantage of using this approach is that it helps with future recall. Action items usually make sense in context, therefore going to greater lengths to provide SMART details helps with better recall in the future.
Rule 4: Reduce the focus of action items to the most minimum unit
An action item should be minimal in focus. That is, it should focus only on one thing. If you can break down your action item into smaller steps, then it is too complex and broad in focus.
Ensure that action items are broken down into their smallest tasks. For example, “prepare a vendor shortlist” can be broken down into many steps and is therefore a very complex action item. Minimizing it so that its steps become action items will make it more manageable.
Rule 5: Watch out for dependencies
Some actions are dependent on other actions. For instance, if Julie from marketing doesn’t compile a list of known vendors, June from sales cannot set appointments with those vendors. Dependencies are best managed when everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do and by when they should do it.
- Point out dependencies where they exist to makes team members more conscious about holding back other colleagues from completing their actions.
- Prioritize tasks with dependencies to allow other members to accomplish their tasks.
Rule 6: Turn your process into a template
Your first attempt at creating a better action item list is going to feel a bit cumbersome. It might even consume a lot of your time. However, being meticulous with details the first time around will give you a template to work with in future.
This process can become even easier when you use Aira to automate minute taking for your meetings. Aira creates action items from your meeting discussions, thereby reducing the amount of work you need to do.
As Aira integrates with CRM and other platforms, you can easily import the action items into that software to set up and track your project workflows.
Action items guide teams on what they need to do and helps them achieve those obligations by a certain deadline. If your team members still have unaccomplished items on their schedule by the end of their workday, watch out for these problems:
- Is the focus of the action items too broad?
- Can teams easily find action items assigned to them or do they have to comb through long lists?
- Are your team members overwhelmed by too many tasks?
Then, follow the process outlined above to create better action item lists.