In the business world, you can be bombarded by endless jargon– “let’s get the ball rolling and drill down on leveraging the team to synergize streams and strengthen core competency, before circling back later to touch base.” — that makes life too confusing.
To slice through the lingo, consider action items. They don’t sound that impressive or revolutionary. But they are far more effective for getting things done than a traditional to-do list, whether that’s in the office or the kitchen.
The key for action items is they indicate something to be done. A dedicated method for phrasing tasks in terms of their required action, and not desired result, can significantly boost productivity and get you closer to your long-term ambitions.
What Is an Action Item?
While an action item may seem like a corporate nickname for a task, they are different things. A task most commonly appears on a to-do list as a short, simple bullet point. There isn’t usually any substantial information, other than the what.
An action item, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive, yet still relatively concise task with a description that outlines the task in terms of who, what, how and when. Thus, anyone receiving it can become somewhat familiar instantly.
At the same time, at work, presenting the task in such a way can make it more obvious to determine which employee would best complete the task. This is part of your action plan.
This allows a manager to delegate more easily, without having to slow down and explain things twice. Action items speak for themselves.
5 Action Items List Tips
Here are our five main tips for creating fantastic action items that help you maintain focus, complete tasks and realize goals:
1. Make your action items concrete, not abstract
As we mentioned earlier, tasks are typically written out as intangible, abstract outcomes, like “create pitch deck”, whereas action items need to be assessable, concrete actions, such as “collaborate with marketing on 20 minute pitch presentation with handouts for Monday.” For brilliant action items, you’ll need to get out of the clouds and down to earth.
2. Break down action items to fit in one line BUT include a description
If it takes as long to read as to do, you’re going about things the wrong way. While lengthy action items might look more informative, they are more often confusing and unproductive. They don’t need to be as funny as a zingy, one-liner at the comedy club, but they should be as brief! That being said, be sure to add supplementary information if it’s integral to an assignee’s understanding. If you’re writing for yourself, you may forget details so you can add a short description to play it safe.
3. Work with a consistent format
In much the same way that art historians can spot their Rembrandt from their Caravaggio, your action items might just make a name for themselves if they come in consistent, effective fashion. Consistency leads to better understanding, with the added bonus that you’ll become more efficient at preparing action items by practicing the same format.
4. Categorize your action items by context, action, and resource.
It’s important, not least from an efficiency standpoint, to organize and categorize where applicable. With regard to action items, you should absolutely arrange them in terms on their context (which project, type of work, area of business), the actions themselves (creative, communicative, administrative), and the resources needed (personnel, materials, time, outsourcing). Even if merely a way to stay organized, you’ll see a huge benefit to arranging your action items in this manner.
5. Relay while collaborating
If outstanding action items are dependent on the collaboration of various people, you should be particularly clear about that fact, making sure all individuals know their role in the task. In instances where the action item will be passed along and relayed to others, everyone should be able to pick it up and run with it. Upon completing your action item, there must be a new item to replace it, one which updates everyone. With collaborative work, it’s especially important to reassess the information that needs to be relayed and whether the same collaboration is still required.
Bonus: Fact sheet templates!
What Makes A Good Action Item?
First, consider the task: “Find wholesalers for new products.” What are the limitations? Well, this is really just the end result, which is obviously relevant but doesn’t really do much in itself.
There’s no indication of who is in charge of the task, how it should be done or when it needs to be finished. It really isn’t very useful.
Action items should capture:
- Who is responsible for completing the work?
- What action needs to be undertaken?
- How can the action be done?
- When is the due date?
So, using this model, the action item may read as: “Operations Department to call potential wholesalers (see directory) to secure deal for new kitchenware range – due 10th March.”
The advantages are plentiful.
There is a clear task owner, a solid outline of what should be done, and a due date.
There’s even some relevant information which may speed up the process, too.
Don’t go crazy with extra details, as that can be counterproductive. An action item isn’t a walkthrough for aliens: “call wholesalers by picking up the telecommunication device with your dominant hand and dialing the correct 11 digit number sequence.”
If you’re going to add extra information, make sure it’s valuable and relevant.
Just as you have many objectives towards one larger goal, you can have many action items per objective. To recap,
- Tasks express desired results (goals).
- Action items show literal actions required to fulfill them.
How Do You Write Action Items?
As we now know, action items are used to define actions needed for the completion of a task or job. “Monkey see, monkey do,” so to speak. Therefore, to create an action item, ask yourself what needs to be done and how you can do it.
Try to describe the action in one or two sentences.
If your action item seems to contain too many steps, break it down into smaller tasks.
The key is to write down the action item as soon as you come up with it. If it’s clear, concise and communicable, phrased in a way that allows you to complete the task in a small number of steps, you can call it an action item and get cracking!
A good example can be acted upon straight after being set. If you find this not to be the case, you’ve likely made the action item too complicated, or too ambiguous.
Action Item Examples
- Sales to contact Springleaf client about shipping delays
- IT & Agency discussion to finalize next week’s website updates – must be done by Thursday
- HR to send performance report (due 25th July) to assistant director – physical copy.
- Follow up with project manager about the budget and additional costs (Feb through April) by Wednesday
Even if you’re writing action items for yourself, it’s still good practice to include all of the parts. You’ll (hopefully!) understand what you’re talking about.
You may be able to get away with omitting certain details, though if a company uses action items for employee daily reports or performance reviews, including this information proves better for keeping a record of your work.
Following these tips for 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. Sign up for ClickUp today!