5 Tips for Creating Effective Action Items in the Workplace

If you work in an office long enough, sooner or later you’ll hear someone drop the term “action item.” The first time you hear it, you may wonder why it’s a separate term… isn’t it just another thing for someone to handle as part of their job? Yes and no. An action item is a “discrete task that must be accomplished, usually by a single individual or a small team or group.”

These “to-do list” items typically pop up during meetings, and it’s easy to lose them in the shuffle. Without the right approach to creating effective action items in the workplace, everyone could file out of the room without a solid idea of what they’re actually supposed to do moving forward (not to mention due dates, partners or consequences for lateness or incompletion).

Here are five tips for making the most of the little buzzword phrase known as action items.

Establish a Timeline

Have you ever noticed that meetings at work tend to happen far ahead of their actual subject matter? For example, your marketing department could start discussing fall promotions… in January. Or your team may huddle to discuss a new initiative that will be launching months down the line.

It’s easy to write off these early bird meetings as unimportant; you’ll touch base closer to the actual event, right? That’s a dangerous assumption. Action items generally have a firm due date attached, and if you’re not looking to the future, they could sneak up quickly. Do yourself a favor and create a timeline, differentiating what can be completed anytime versus what must be wrapped up by a certain date/time.

Crowdsource Group Feedback

Before you can dig into the nitty-gritty details of your action items, you need to know what problems you’re solving and what angles you’ll take to do so. But without a simple system for crowdsourcing feedback, suggestions often come in piecemeal via email or word of mouth. It’s tough to keep track of so many opinions and insights—that is, unless you have a simple way to collect input from your colleagues.

Utilizing an interactive poll embedded into Google Slides allows everyone to anonymously and instantaneously submit their responses to key questions from their own mobile devices or computers. Teams can then use whatever valuable information appears on the display screen to plan initiatives and create action items accordingly. After all, if you don’t know what people really think, it’s tough to move forward with everyone on board.

Refine Your Writing Style

Many employees treat action items like shorthand notes to themselves—but having to decode them months later may stall or derail your progress. As one business growth strategist writes on Linkedin, “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.”

Writing something like “Color-code analytics report by Monday 10/02; Send to Brenda by Tuesday 10/03” is much more helpful than writing “Report due 10/03” in a hurry. You need to know what you’re doing, when it’s due and where to send it in explicit detail.

Make a Template

Luckily, you can download a template or create an easy in-house spreadsheet to save yourself time on future action items. Since most projects tend to unfold in a similar fashion, you can avoid the effort of making a unique tracking spreadsheet each time.

Pick a Central Location

The final step of creating effective action items in the workplace is simply storing the documentation where everyone can find it. If it lives on one person’s desktop computer, it’s much less useful than if it resides in a workflow management tool or cloud-based server.

Streamlining how your office approaches action items will help employees take ownership over deliverables and reduce the chances of anyone on your team missing a crucial deadline.

Community manager at Visual Contenting. Jacqueline loves to talk about social media trends, new technology and how they help businesses accelerate their marketing efforts.