Everybody should agree in considering meetings important for any business, with the correct frequency and being as effective as possible.

Running effective meetings entails agreeing on tasks that should be carried out. During meetings tasks will be discussed and a team to-do list will emerge. Sometimes team members will volunteer themselves for tasks, while other tasks may need to be assigned to the most suitable person in the team. Tasks should be collected and recorded in the minutes with the name of the person in charge of them. There’s no point in setting up meetings if tasks and decisions never get done. So what can be done to make those meetings productive? Of course assigning tasks is essential, but  their follow up  and realization are the most critical steps to reach the goal.

Let’s start with the fundamentals by answering the question “What is a meeting action item?”

Yes, it seems simple: an action item is a single, clearly defined action or task that is assigned to one or more meeting participants to get an activity from start to finish. Usually an activity is one of a list that are part of a project.

Below you can find some great ways to write better action items:

  1. Define clear Action Items

A well-written action item isn’t just a description and reminder of a task.

It may sound obvious but take a look at your action lists and see where these, rather than doing whatever you are supposed to do, you are now trying to figure out what you were supposed to do.

A well-written action item contains enough information to spur you into action rather than just serving as an anchor for you to then remember what needs to be done.

In your action items don’t use shorthand codes for our current selves and which are meant just to jog our memory.

  1. Take the verb-noun construct rule

A verb-noun construct tells you what needs to be done to what; it automatically spurs action, which is what we want. When there are verbs in front of action items, it is immediately clear the action to perform. Otherwise you have one thing to think about and make decisions on or you can get confused trying to guess what it is supposed to do. This step that consumes your time and effort can be easily prevented.

  1. State the reason of a task

A single task can seem like busywork, because people may don’t see the “big picture”.

Giving context about the task and explaining why it is valuable can help people get the task completed better, and often motivates the person to do it

Therefore, don’t forget to write one or two sentences and explain why the task is important. It might also help people to recognise tasks that, in fact, are busywork and you’d be surprised how much just writing a couple of sentences can affect the quality and timeliness of execution.

  1. Always assign ownership for the action item

If you don’t assign an action item, chances are you’ll have to do it yourself.

Every action item needs to be designated to someone, a specific individual, not a team.  An activity may be completed by more than one person but only one person can own the task: someone you can say is responsible for reporting back and ensuring it gets done within the agreed time frame.

  1. When time matters include a deadline

If you want to see any progress in tasks assigned to team members, it is best practice that items with a time requirement always contain their due dates. This will remind the task owner that it has to be completed by that date. It also gives you the possibility of identifying delays, following up on the person and monitoring the timeline of activities.

  1. Be clear about relay items

Many action items are meant to spur the action of someone else in the chain of a project. Together with the deadline of their tasks people need to know what’s next.

When handling relays ensure your company works with the rule of delivering the result of the completed task item to the next person in the chain who needs to start his, otherwise you have to split an item into two discrete items — e.g., “Update the schedule for Mike by Wednesday” and “Send Updated schedule to Mike by Wednesday”

Conclusions

Can writing and properly managing Action Items be considered extra work? For sure, but in the end you’ll be far better off with clear and concise action items. Everyone on your team knows exactly what to do and when. Follow up of activities will be easier and the effectiveness of your meeting decisions will be enhanced.

Furthermore, you have a clear track of what has been discussed, agreed and done during the project.

You’ll see that managing meetings with action items will quickly become a team habit. Projects will move forward smoothly and efficiently.