Manage Your Meeting Tasks and Action Items Smartly

Meetings are often bustling with various topics that require discussion and deliberation. In such an environment, it is common for verbal agreements and actions to slip through the cracks and be forgotten. 

That's where action items become crucial. 

Clearly defined action items are essential for meeting management and enable employees to keep track of progress and prioritize tasks.

Let’s delve into action items in more detail and understand how to write and track meeting tasks effectively.

What are the action items in a meeting?

An action item is a  specific, measurable, and time-bound task that is assigned to individuals or teams to accomplish after the meeting

Action items serve as building blocks for achieving larger goals or completing more significant projects, ensuring that progress is made in a structured manner. Assigning ownership and deadlines to each action item also helps establish accountability and ensure everyone is on the same page. 

"Action items are the currency of productive meetings. When people leave a meeting with clear action items, they are more likely to follow through and get things done."  - Sheryl Sandberg, Technology Executive

Task vs. action item

Tasks and action items are sometimes used synonymously, but there is a slight difference between these two. A task is more of a blanket term for any work to be done. On the contrary, an action item is a more specific task with an owner or a deadline. 

Additionally, action items typically arise from meetings and should be clearly documented, but tasks may not necessarily be tied to a specific meeting. 

Here is an example of a task and an action item:

  • Task: Plan a team-building event. 

  • Action item: Rachel, please research and come up with a plan for team-building and estimated costs by coming Monday.

5 Steps to writing meaningful meeting action items 

It is crucial to create action Items that are precise, measurable, and can be replicated. Also, every action item should have the essential elements (3 W’s): 

  • What: Description of the task that needs to be completed

  • Who: The person to whom the task is assigned

  • When: The due date of task completion

Here are a few steps to come up with better meeting action items for your team:

1. Write down the task clearly (what)

Ensure the action items are clear and specific so the employees know what is expected of them. Here are a few tips that will come in handy when writing action items:

  • Start the action item with a verb to make it more direct and specific. For instance, rather than saying "Marketing Plan," you could say "Create a marketing plan for Q2." This helps to outline the action needed and the desired outcome clearly.

  • Don’t make the action items wordy; keep them concise to avoid ambiguity. 

  • Remember that action items are clear to someone reading them for the first time. The assignee should have a complete understanding of how to accomplish the task at hand.

2. Provide context about the task

Adding background information about a task in the comments or notes section can provide additional context and clarity. It helps team members understand the task's purpose, the desired outcome, and any constraints or dependencies that may affect its execution. This information can also help team members prioritize tasks and allocate resources accordingly.

Moreover, without context, a barrage of meeting tasks may seem meaningless, but understanding each task's purpose and context helps put things in perspective.

3. Designate a person (who)

When an action item is assigned to a specific person, it becomes clear who is responsible for completing the task and who others can turn to for updates or assistance.

While assigning tasks, you should assess each team member's previous experience, technical skills, and available resources to zero in on the right person for the task.

Delegating meeting tasks based on individual availability can also ensure the team meets all deadlines. For instance, you may assign larger or additional tasks to team members with greater availability.

4. Assign a priority level to each item

Establish a priority level for every action item to determine its urgency and importance.  It is crucial to note the task's position in the project timeline, the level of complexity, and the number of team members involved. 

Assigning clear priority levels enables team members to focus on high-priority tasks. Moreover, you can create to-do lists that align with project goals. It increases the likelihood of delivering a robust final project within the established deadline.

5. Set realistic due dates (when)

Set a specific due date for completing the meeting task. Ensure the deadline is realistic and achievable and the employee has the necessary resources to meet it. 

By consistently practicing this habit, the team can improve task management and ensure the timely completion of time-sensitive tasks.

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Bonus: Keep a tab on relay items

Action items passed on from one person to another for further action or follow-up are called relay items. After all, successfully completing one job helps accomplish other tasks in the project.

When meeting action items require the cooperation of multiple individuals, it's crucial to communicate this and ensure that each team member understands their role in the task. Also, the action item that will be handed off to others should be easily understandable. Ensure that once a relay item is completed, the update is shared with all the parties involved. 

Examples of good action items 

Here are some examples of action items that mention the three crucial elements of an action item: what, who, and when. 

Marketing action item example

The marketing team aims to enhance its content and increase the sign-up rate. To achieve this goal, they have decided to make improvements to the official homepage.

  • Action item: Optimize the homepage to increase the sign-up rate by 5%.

  • Task Owner: Kim (content strategist)

  • Deadline: 23rd March (before the next meeting)

  • Notes: Work with the design team to optimize homepage content and design.

Engineering action item example

The company's e-commerce website has a bug, and the cart is not updating the recently added items. To fix the bug, they chose Harry, an experienced developer who has fixed similar issues before.

  • Action Item: Fix the bug on the e-commerce checkout page.

  • Task Owner: Harry

  • Deadline: Today end-of-the-day

  • Notes: The customers are unable to purchase new items because of the bug, so it needs to be fixed ASAP.

How to track and follow up on meeting action items? 

To track your team's action items, follow these steps:

Documenting action items in one place

Documenting the action items in meeting minutes is crucial as it saves time. You can record them using action item tracker Excel spreadsheets or a specialized action item tracking software. 

Establishing a consistent method that works best for your team's workflow and communication preferences is critical. Don’t forget to mention essential details such as the action item's description, due date, the assignee, and its current status to ensure transparency and accountability.

Record new developments promptly

While many action items can be identified during a meeting, unforeseen issues and developments often arise when team members begin working on their individual tasks. These may include technical issues or a need for further clarification.

As this information may come from multiple team members and at various stages in the project, it's essential to promptly record any new developments when they arise. It will help you stay informed and better equipped to manage the overall project.

Monitor the progress of action items

Monitor progress and follow up with each team member to ensure the timely completion of tasks. It will help identify any roadblocks proactively and enable you to take necessary corrective measures. 

As the names of action items are shorter, monitoring them can be relatively difficult. So, always keep your action items tracker updated, and give the assignee a little push if necessary.

Stay on top of meeting tasks

In conclusion, action items are a crucial component of effective meeting management.

Here is a recap of writing meaningful meeting tasks:

  •  Write the task clearly

  • Provide context

  • Assign it to a person

  • Assign a priority level

  • Set realistic due dates

By implementing these practices, teams can improve task management and ensure timely completion of time-sensitive tasks.

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