Have you ever left a meeting feeling confident that everyone's on the same page only to find out a week later everyone's interpretation of their assigned tasks was off? You ask yourself, "How did we go so wrong?"
Place some blame on poorly documented action items. If the agenda is vehicle maintenance before a big Formula 1 race, the action items in the to-do list are the pit stops that keep things running smoothly until the next meeting. Read on to learn how to guarantee successful follow-up by eliminating your bad action item habits.
What is an action item?
Before we get into the details of how to perfect action items, let’s get on the same page about what an action item is. Instagannt defines action items as one answer to three different questions:
- Who is doing the task?
- What is the task?
- When is the task's due date?
- We’ll add one more: How do we know what "complete" looks like?
Action items are especially important to document if someone is absent from the meeting. These team members may receive action items through a process like cascading messages. This is a popular strategy used by companies running on the Entrepreneurial Operating System. EOS is a set of concepts and tools used to help companies streamline.
Action items aren’t only in your paper notes. You can record action items in your note-taking software or turn them into tasks on your project management software.
Read on to learn more must-dos and the never-dos of action items.
Do: Reference the project discussed and agenda location
Does anyone else write notes like "Follow up with James on that website problem" and read them later in total confusion? First of all, what is the website problem?
You can't complete an action item if you don't know details about the problem, like the context for how it was discussed in a meeting.
Here's a better way to reference that to do the item above: "Discussion/brainstorm on better ways to reach more customers. Website loading slowly and people are leaving it quickly. Talk with James in IT about improving website speed this month and possible impacts."
Let’s look at another example. Every meeting has resulting action items like “Call Jerry about whether this budget got final approval.” But you can add helpful details like: “Samantha: Call Jerry about whether the marketing budget for 2022 got final approval. Due: Tuesday.”
Anchor AI, automatically captures the action item’s context for you! Our tool can help you record action items as you talk about them. Say a memorable phrase like “To recap,” or “So our action item is.” That way, you can find it easily in the transcript later. Plus, when you say certain words using Anchor AI, they trigger the app to turn that statement into an action item.
Don't: Turn projects into action items
Would you feel good about adding something like "Write the next American novel" or "Buy a house" on your to-do list? Don't do that to coworkers, either.
No one wants to get a to-do list item like "define marketing strategy for next 12 months" with a one week deadline attached to it. (Although you might make your co-workers laugh.)
Recognize when your "action item" is actually a milestone or the end marker for a project. If something is truly not achievable within a smaller time frame like a few days or week, break it down into smaller tasks.
Consider the example above. Here's a better way to break the milestone of a finished marketing strategy into smaller action items:
- Read through last year's marketing strategy to make template for this year.
- Evaluate email marketing success for the past year.
- Evaluate social media success for the past year.
- Evaluate website performance for the past year.
- Set up a meeting with PR to brainstorm seasonal marketing ideas.
- Set goals for email, social, and website for next year.
- Draft strategy.
- Get approval or edits for draft in team meeting in two months.
See how there are a lot of smaller tasks that move you toward the finished milestone? When it comes to meeting action items, document each one as a discrete task. Include a brief description of the task, and use a project management tool to connect the smaller task to the bigger milestone.
Don't: Speak for someone else
Unless you're a manager and it's your job to know your employees’ overall workloads, don't sign up someone else for a task list item until they've confirmed they’re available. What if the employee you assign it to doesn't have the right training, security system access, or interest/ability? Always check in first!
Don't: Skip noting the assignee
If you're capturing items for absent people, write down names of all assignees when you pass those tasks along. If the person doing the job has a question, they should know who to go to with their questions. Don't encourage companywide "Who do I talk to about this?" Slack messages because your notes weren’t clear. Remember: Details like this (and due dates, notes, and any attachments) can be key to people successfully completing action items.
Do: Verify the due date
Where possible, ask the person doing a task whether their deadline is reasonable. If they're not in the meeting, the assignee should verify the due date is realistic. Be mindful of times when someone's "normal" might have to shift. You never know when:
- A new team member is being onboarded and their training is taking up a lot of time.
- The person being assigned the task is taking some time off soon.
- It's a busy season for your company.
- You're short-staffed and team members are already pitching in for other departments.
- The project manager assigning the task doesn't clearly understand the scope.
- The person in question is already overworked and behind on deadlines.
Do: Add action items to the next meeting agenda
If someone gets assigned a task to touch base in a week with their findings, add that to the next week's agenda. Action item tracking is just as important as recording the task itself.
In your agenda or project management tool, you might move the action item list to a separate section so all stakeholders can chime in on tasks from last week. A good basic rule is that no one can mark their task complete until it's been shared and confirmed in the following meeting. If this is a formal meeting, you can list it in the meeting minutes as “old business.” Grab details like:
- Status of the project as a percentage (100% equals “complete”)
- Color-coding to note a “stuck” task with the color red (this is great for Excel spreadsheets)
- Due dates, assignees, and other details you need for every action item you create
Do: Use Anchor.AI
Is it cheeky to name your own software as a "do" in a do's and don'ts list? Oh well, we did it anyway. We know just how much the right note-taking software can help you!
Every remote team benefits from AI-powered action items to keep track of all the important details discussed in the meeting. Get every task rolling so you can reach the completion date on time and easily. Here's the best news of all: You can do a lot of the heavy lifting by partnering with a software who grabs those action items for you automatically! Check out Anchor AI today to learn more.