How to create action items that actually get done

Gear your team up for success. This guide explores how to create better action items and become more productive.

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Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman
Gear your team up for success. This guide explores how to create better action items and become more productive.

What are action items?

At the heart of every fruitful meeting lies the promise of actions to come - and action items are these promises made tangible. Simply put, they are specific tasks or actions that arise as outcomes from meetings, workshops, or brainstorming sessions, earmarked for completion by designated individuals or teams.

Benefits of using action items

Let’s face it, modern life is fast-paced and time can often feel like a luxury. Therefore, we have to make sure we’re as smart as possible with it. That’s where action items come in:

Action items boost accountability: With action items, there's clarity on who is responsible for what task. This clarity fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, ensuring that tasks are less likely to fall through the cracks.

Action items enhance productivity: By providing a clear roadmap of what needs to be done, action items can help professionals manage their time better. They ensure that everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done and they provide a structured approach to tackling projects, eliminating guesswork and promoting efficiency.

Action items offer measurable progress: As action items are completed, they offer a tangible measure of progress. They're a helpful way to see what has been done and still needs to be done. Over time, this helps teams assess their productivity and areas for improvement.

How to create action items: The 3 Ws (and a P)

While the concept of action items might seem straightforward, their effectiveness is rooted in how they’re formed. Remembering the 3 Ws can help you to craft action items more effectively:

1. Who - Every action item needs an owner, someone who takes the helm. Clearly designating this ensures accountability and clarity, somebody to go to if there are questions about the task.

2. What - When it comes to "what”, precision is key. There should be no ambiguity about what needs to be done. The best action items will start with a verb and will be very precise about the task at hand. For example, instead of just "Sales data", writing "Analyze the sales data from Q2" offers more clarity.

3. When - A task without a timeline is a ship without an anchor. Set clear deadlines to maintain momentum and drive efficiency. Knowing when something is due can help when prioritizing tasks and organizing a team's workload.

4. Priority - Not all tasks are equal. Some tasks are minor and are “nice to have” whereas others can impact the entire organization. It’s good practice, especially with the more urgent tasks, to also list their priority or find a way to mark them as urgent. Listing the priority level of a task helps team members to prioritize their tasks more effectively.

Action item examples

Engineering Team

Action Item: Review and debug the newly developed software feature to ensure it aligns with the initial project specifications.

Tip 💡 Craft lets you link directly to any documents required for reference, ensuring all the required information is easily available. In the example above, you could link directly to the project specification document by typing @ and searching for the document.

Owner: Sarah Mitchell

Deadline: August 25th

Priority: High

Marketing Team

Action Item: Finalize and launch the new digital ad campaign targeting users aged 25-34, based on the latest market research insights.

Owner: Raj Patel

Deadline: August 22nd

Priority: Medium

HR Team

Action Item: Organize and conduct a workshop on workplace inclusivity and diversity to foster a more open company culture.

Owner: James O'Reilly

Deadline: September 5th

Priority: Medium

Leadership Team

Action Item: Evaluate the feasibility of the proposed business expansion into the European market, including potential risks and rewards.

Owner: CEO - Emily Thompson

Deadline: September 15th

Priority: High

These examples highlight the specificity and clarity required when drafting action items, ensuring that there's no ambiguity in understanding the task at hand, who's responsible for it, when it's due, and its level of importance.

Common mistakes when creating action items

1. Being too vague

Mistake: Creating an action item like "Improve website." This directive is unspecific, leaving team members uncertain about what exactly needs to be done.

Solution: Instead, write "Increase website loading speed by optimizing image sizes and removing unnecessary plugins."

2. Not assigning a clear owner

Mistake: Leaving the action item without a designated individual or team in charge. An action item like "Organize the annual company event" without assigning it to someone can lead to confusion and lack of accountability.

Solution: Clearly mention the owner, such as "Organize the annual company event – Responsible: @Laura from the HR Team." Craft lets you mention people using the @ symbol so they're notified.

3. Setting unrealistic deadlines

Mistake: Assigning a deadline without considering the feasibility or existing workload. For instance, "Complete full website redesign by end of the week" might be unattainable.

Solution: After discussions with the relevant team, choose a more realistic deadline, like "Complete full website redesign by end of the month."

4. Overlooking priority indication

Mistake: Not classifying the urgency or significance of an action item. Without understanding the priority, teams might misallocate their efforts.

Solution: Clearly label the action item's priority, such as "Research competitors' marketing strategies – Priority: Medium."

5. Not being measurable

Mistake: Drafting action items that don't have a clear metric of success, such as "Increase social media presence."

Solution: Define a clear, measurable outcome. For instance, "Increase X (Twitter) followers by 10% in the next quarter."

Avoiding these common pitfalls ensures that your action items remain clear, actionable, and effective, leading to better project outcomes and streamlined team collaboration.

Conclusion

Crafting effective action items is essential for smooth and productive operations in any professional setting. They serve as clear, actionable steps that drive progress and ensure all team members are aligned on their objectives. To recap:

Clarity is essential: Action items should be straightforward, leaving no room for confusion.

Assign responsibility: Every action item needs an owner to ensure follow-through.

Set realistic deadlines: Dates not only guide action but also establish a commitment.

Determine the importance: Prioritize action items to guide focus and resource allocation.

In summary, the strength of action items lies in their clarity and effectiveness. By keeping these principles in mind, we can create concise tasks that move projects forward and streamline team collaboration.

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