How To Create Excellent Action Items For Better To-Do Lists

If you’re slogging through your action items each day, it may not be that you have too much to do.

There could be a simple solution that will only take you a few seconds each day to change.

What could have that type of impact?

You are writing the action items on your to-do list all wrong.

Really, that’s it?

Yes, small changes in even how you list your action items could mean more productivity during your workday.

In this post, we’ll analyze what to do with your action items to make them sharper, more cohesive and yes, even more actionable.


1. Capture and clarify

Too often, our action items are nouns rather than verbs.

Why does that have an impact? Because if we’re only reminded of an item, we won’t know what to do at first glance.

Here’s an example:

“Sales deck.”

Some of you might have that on your list for today right now.

And It looks funny out of context, right?

An outsider will not know what to do with that item, causing potential communication issues.

Are you creating a sales deck?

Presenting a sales deck?

Sending a sales deck?

Now, you probably know what to do with the sales deck.

But what if you have multiple action items that need to be done to the sales deck?

You will have to sort through each step in your head to remember what you need to do next.

Compound this by the 10 or 20 other items on your to-do list.

Will you remember each step as you go along? No. It’s impossible.

If you follow the Get Things Done system and methodology, you may be familiar with the “capture” and “clarify” parts of the process.

In ClickUp, you can use the Notepad to jot down reminders or ideas, and then convert them into tasks. You could write down “sales deck” and then review it later, adding more detail in the process.

Better action items need to be clarified so you know the next steps. Change your capture to an action.


2. Start your action item with a verb

Listing the item as a noun doesn’t help, because it can be interpreted in different ways.

What should you do instead?

Start your action item with a verb.

“Sales deck” on your to-do list becomes “Review sales deck.”

Whatever you need to do with that item should be part of your to-do list. It only takes a few more seconds to write that verb in front of your item.

As mentioned, you probably know what to do with it. But what if a few days go by?

You’ll have to dig back in and remind yourself of all the details, slowing down the time you could be used to prioritize your day or estimate the time for certain tasks. 


3. Create more specific requests

When creating your action item, think about the next specific step that you need to take.

A simple trick is to act like you’re writing instructions or creating a task for someone else. (Even better, you may actually be creating an item for someone else).

If you’re giving someone else instructions, you wouldn’t just list “Sales Deck” as the item to be completed.

More details are needed.

In ClickUp, we have a task title along with extra room for detail.

But the title is the action item–it needs to be specific. As you scroll through a List or Folder in ClickUp, the task title should prompt action. The names of projects, Lists and folders can be bigger categories, but individual tasks should be actionable items.

It’s up to you for how specific you’d like to make your tasks. Often, I create a task in ClickUp then break up the smaller parts into subtasks and set due dates for those.

If the sales deck needs to be reviewed, a better action item would be “Review new Sales Deck edits.”

I may have a List or task in ClickUp with “Review sales deck” and then list the specific subtasks underneath those, such as review value propositions and edit for grammar.

At least this action item spurs the next step, rather than causing more mental friction in the review process.


4. Add a due date.

One of our company values at ClickUp is to Do It Now. Obviously, we can’t do everything at once, but we can plan and be as productive as possible with our work.

Your objective and goal for each action item will be clearer with a due date.

For me personally, I use ClickUp to set task dates and project goals, along with jotting a few notes in our Notepad or on a piece of paper.

So if I have a project on my to-do list to be completed by the end of the week, I map out subtasks for each day or a few days to help me accomplish that goal. I can set a deadline for each of those subtasks.

Of course, It all depends on the size of the task and what needs to be done.

This may seem like a waste of time, but it becomes more helpful with the more responsibility that you have.

Our team at Clickup also utilizes due dates and task priorities to better understand the best option to tackle next.

We’re all afraid of tasks and projects falling to the wayside and this specificity with task details and due dates helps you avoid that.


5. Assign it

With each task you have, you must make a decision about what to do with it. Some tasks may be better delegated; others may be right for you to do.

In ClickUp you can assign a task to yourself, and then filter with the “Me” view to see all of the tasks specifically assigned to you. This also helps when viewing tasks that others have created but have assigned to you.

Not sure who’s the right person for the job?

In ClickUp, you can assign multiple people to a task to help or contribute to the work.

If you have several tasks you’re working on at once, set a priority flag so you can prioritize your work with greater ease–choosing between urgent, high, normal or low priority.

Urgency is one of our core values and using the priorities in ClickUp helps us understand what’s the most important–and what’s not.


6. Know the next step in the workflow process

When creating action items, also consider the next steps in the process for your team members. This will help clarify your immediate next step, and set up the next person for success.

If you’re only supposed to add more content to the sales deck, but not send it to the sales team, then list out those responsibilities in the task details.

Or, it may just be a simple statement such as Edit sales deck by Friday for Mallory.

Why is that a great action item? It starts with a verb, is specific, has a due date and tells demonstrates the next step (send to Mallory).

It doesn’t address which parts of the sales deck to edit.

But ClickUp offers you a few different ways to approach this problem:

Your task details or subtasks could help with that and allow you to add a bit more detail. Or include a task checklist that clearly shows the next step, such as “Send to Mallory”. These checklists don’t have due dates but show you the next step in the process once a piece is reviewed, edited or completed.

Checklists also help someone pick up the slack if a colleague is away.


7. Include task details

For an action item to have any legs, you need to have an understanding of what makes it important.

The right task details will provide the objective and purpose even in a short statement.

Let’s return (for the last time!) to our beleaguered sales deck.

Edit sales deck by Friday for Mallory.

Thanks to your specific, verb-oriented action item, you made the right edits. The sales deck is in a pretty good place and you’re all set to send to Mallory.

But what would have made this an even better action item? If we understood the context. Maybe one deck needs to be more oriented to this week’s tradeshow, but another similar deck is for the CEO’s speaking engagement next week.

Those are two different audiences, even though the core message may be similar.

And for a simple sales deck edit, we don’t have to rehash all the event details, but even this little tweak may have clarified the purpose:

Edit the tradeshow sales deck by Friday for Mallory.


Edit the CEO keynote sales deck by Friday for Mallory.

Also, there’s a hint of importance in those context clues. The CEO keynote may be more important, so take a few extra minutes checking all the small details.

At ClickUp, we want to Remember Sh*t. And task details help us do that and connect the dots to other related tasks.

In your task details, you can create links or set dependencies to other tasks and projects where this task may have related–such as to the trade show project, or even the deck’s creation.



Okay, the sales deck is now reviewed, done and sent on to the next person in line.

You can see how a few small edits to your action items and to-do list can make a big difference with outcomes.

Let’s recap each step in the process:

  1. Capture and clarify
  2. Start your action item with a verb
  3. Create more specific requests
  4. Add a due date
  5. Assign each action item
  6. Know the next step in the workflow process
  7. Include task details if possible

Making these simple changes to your to-do list and action items doesn’t take much time at all but could completely alter how you write and list your action items.

With ClickUp, you have the right productivity tools and features to enhance your action items and to-do lists.

The simple, user-friendly interface gives you the organization you need. Rich-text editing and task details help you take notes, monitor your resources and even use assigned comments to keep track of those to-dos and action items.

Questions? Comments? We're here for you 24/7 at!

Sign up for FREE
and start using ClickUp in seconds!
Please enter valid email address