If there’s one thing most people who have a ton of meetings say, it’s this:
Meetings should be more effective.
Fortunately, there’s an easy cure:
Writing and following up on meeting action items.
Want to learn how? Let’s dive right in.
What is a meeting action item?
Let’s start with the fundamentals:
What is a meeting action item?
You might have guessed it by now… But an action item is an action or a task that’s assigned to one or more meeting participants.
The idea is that this person or these people report back when they’ve completed the task.
Action items are recorded in your meeting minutes. There, you have a task list with all these different tasks and decisions.
This is what it looks like in our meeting tool, Minute:
Effective meetings rely on well-executed action items.
There’s no point in setting up meetings if tasks and decisions never get done.
Writing effective meeting action items.
How to write a list of meeting action items
How do you write action items in minutes?
Your action items should address five different questions. We’ll look at them here below.
But you might be asking yourself:
“Isn’t this a lot of extra work?”
Yes, it’s extra work. But in the end, you’ll be far better off with clear and concise action items.
Everyone on your team knows what to do and when.
So, here’s what you need to consider when creating your meeting action items:
What is it?
A well-written action item isn’t just a description and reminder of a task.
No, instead it contains enough information to help you (or whoever “owns” the task) to take action.
Even if everything seems clear during your meeting, you never know if there are misunderstandings.
Alternatively, people forget what they signed up to do.
So, in short, you want to make your action items consistent.
Instead of saying “Budget for Project X”, you might say: “Create budget for Project X. Take into account goal A, B and C.”
At the end of the day:
The more specific you are, the better.
The context of a task can give valuable information and motivate people to complete it.
After all, a lot of tasks can seem like “busywork”.
So write one or two sentences and explain why this task is important.
Not only does this motivate people, it might also help you recognize tasks that, in fact, are busywork.
When is it due?
A well-written action item includes a deadline.
Clarify to your team that these are ‘hard’ deadlines.
One missed deadline could mean a whole chain of tasks get derailed.
And this again means a ton of extra work.
You have to be in touch with everyone on your team, schedule a new follow-up meeting and so forth.
But what happens if someone doesn’t get their work done in time?
As the meeting manager, you’re responsible to message, call them, and chase them down. Ultimately, you’re the person who needs to ensure that the work gets done (as far as the meeting goes).
That’s why it’s a good idea to set up some form of “ownership” system.
And that’s what we’ll look at next.
Who is responsible?
There’s one rule of thumb here:
If you don’t assign an action item, chances are you’ll have to do it yourself.
What this means is:
Every action item, or task, needs to be assigned to someone.
This person then “owns” his/her task. He/she is ultimately responsible for reporting back and ensuring it gets done.
This is how companies like Apple stay productive in their meetings.
But that’s not all.
You also need to explain the next step.
People need to know what’s next.
If you have a chain of tasks or decisions, one task has to get done first before the next person can work on his/her tasks.
That’s why your meeting task needs to include a mention of this next step together with the deadline.
“Send to Tim by Wednesday, 11 AM.” Or “Handover to Lisa by Friday afternoon.”
Meeting action item template
Now you know how to write an effective meeting action item.
And to keep things simple, you can directly copy and paste this list to create your first action item.
- Task description:
- Why is this a priority task:
- Assigned to:
- Next step:
Meeting action item examples
Three action item examples with all five elements.
“Create budget for Project X. Take into account goal A, B and C. Overall goal is to XYZ. Deadline: April 14th 2018. Assigned to: Peter. Handover to Eric by April 15th 2018.”
“Social media posts for May. Goal is to engage audience and improve ROI by 5%. Task due: March 21st. Owner: Sarah. Send to Amanda by March 21st.”
“Outsourcing agreement to be finalized to ensure new database gets implemented on time. Deadline: July 2nd 2018. Assigned to: Lisa. Handover to Marc by July 15th 2018.”
How to follow up on action items
Now you know the ins and outs of meeting tasks.
It’s time to look at the next step:
Following up on meeting action items.
The follow up phase is crucial for various reasons.
- You ensure your meeting decisions are implemented.
- You hold effective meetings.
- You save costs.
What to do right after your meeting
The follow-up begins right after your meeting. First, write a summary of the meeting and distribute minutes.
Here, you include files, a list of action items, and deadlines.
A good idea is to archive your minutes so that they’re accessible whenever you need to revisit a meeting.
You can do all of this in our own meeting tool, Minute.
Tracking action items
What are the best practices for tracking action items?
Like we talked about above, the most effective system is to hand out responsibility to everyone on the team. So, everyone’s responsible for their own tasks.
That said, you still need to track tasks and keep everyone in the loop.
Ask everyone to report to you when they complete and hand off a task. Or, ask them to fill in a tracking sheet, like an Excel sheet.
#2: Reminder emails
Even if people are responsible for their own tasks, you still need to do some basic project management. A simple way to do it? Schedule automated reminder emails that go out a couple of days before the deadline.
#3: Tracking system
To track tasks, set up a tracking system. This could be a basic Excel sheet that you share with your team. You can also use a project management tool like Trello.
Alternatively, you can use Minute. With Minute, you can add and assign task, including deadlines. Everyone who has access to your minutes can then update tasks.
Email templates for following up on meeting action items
You might find yourself in a situation where you need to reach out to get a task done.
Here are three different situations (priority tasks, regular tasks and tasks that need to be reassigned due to your co-worker’s workload).
Email template for a priority task
Following up on our [meeting]. You took on [task] and targeted getting it done by [date/yesterday]. Do you have a new deadline for the task? Please let me know by EOD today.
Email template for a regular task
Following up on our [meeting]. You took on [task] and targeted getting it done by [date/yesterday]. Do you have an update on the task?
Email template for re-assigning a task
Following up on our [meeting]. You took on [task], but because of [reason], I understand you might not have the time to work on this. We want to get the [project] shipped by the end of the month, so let me know if you want to get this off your plate.
Let me know by tomorrow morning if you want me to re-assign the task for you.
Conclusion: Create a system today!
Now you know how to write and follow up on meeting action items.
Just one thing left to do…
Set up a system!
You help yourself keep track of these tasks… But you also help your team save time and unnecessary effort by creating a coherent system.
Create simple guidelines and ask your team to use these guidelines at your next team meeting.
And if you want a simple “done-for-you” system, check out Minute.