How many times have you thought to yourself, “I need to do X today”, not written that task down, and then forgotten about it completely?
That’s likely happened to most of us at least once today!
And the same goes for meetings.
When you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re assigned an action item, but don’t write it down, the chances of you forgetting about it are high.
Writing things down helps us remember more easily — be it a grocery list or a to-do list - it reduces the margin for error.
It’s when you don’t write anything down, you’re just asking to forget.
“But I write meeting minutes, so I am writing everything down - but things are still missed!”
A common issue with meeting minutes is that they either never get sent out, or they do get circulated but they’re too lengthy so no one reads them, which means your action items inevitably fall into a black hole and never get done.
Action items: obviously important
The risk of forgetting to fulfill action items can be hindering to your company’s progress. It can:
- Slow business growth when it’s critical to keep a steady pace
- Result in lost opportunities when deadlines are missed and leads go cold
- Hinder internal communication by increasing assumptions of what teams are working on, which is when things fall through the cracks or when efforts are duplicated
Which is why it’s important to not only write your action items down, but find a way to seamlessly share those action items with the rest of your team with minimal effort.
You don’t have to be a project manager to follow tasks throughout each stage of any process…but we want to show you ways that you can stay organized, hit your deadlines, and be a team player as if you were a PM pro, whether you write meeting minutes or not.
Minutes, or it didn’t happen
The first step towards keeping track of your action items is to write a meeting minutes in the first place.
After you’ve collected detailed meeting notes, it’s essential to then summarize them in a concise meeting summary. Your summary will outline the steps needed to reach a certain goal (aka your action items), and it provides more context, so people understand why achieving that goal is important.
When the team is aligned in their goals and have a clear idea of what actions are required to get there, everyone can start crossing things off their to-do lists.
But the communication doesn’t stop here.
Following up with your team is essential. In an ideal world, everything is running smoothly, and nobody experiences any challenges or road blocks in completing their action items.
In reality, hurdles are a natural part of any project, so keeping an open dialogue can uncover where people are struggling, and where the team can come together to help.
So how should you keep these lines of communication open with your team?
You could send a quick email or instant message, but those conversations have a tendency to get buried, so we don’t recommend relying on those communication channels alone.
Instead, we like to incorporate tools that are specifically designed to keep track of your action items while maintaining strong communication flows between teams – like the 5 we’ve outlined below!
Use tools to amp up your task management
Let’s explore some tools you can use to help you and your team stay on track of those looming deadlines.
1. Microsoft Word Online
For those familiar with Word, there are action plan templates available to help you get started. A Word template gives you the most basic way to track action items, and allows your team to collaborate within the document in real-time if you use Word Online.
A word of caution here: using Word can be convoluted when your task list is populated with a lot of comments and tracked changes. The more people engage with the action item list, the more cluttered it can start to feel.
However, you can adjust this by clicking on “Review” in the main tab, then click “Tracking” and choose “Simple Markup” to see the updated task list without all the tracked changes.
Alternatively, you could create your own action plan template that fits your unique team needs. If that’s an option for you, this video does a good job in taking you through the steps, no matter how robotic the voice is.
2. Microsoft Excel
If you want to stick to an Office product, but feel like Word is too limiting, you may find Excel offers a few more features to optimize your action item tracking.
To get started, download this action plan template for excel.
While there are clear benefits of the added functionality of Excel, there are a few challenges as well.Firstly, becoming proficient with Excel can be a bit of a learning curve. Excel is a very robust tool that can allow you to program very detailed spreadsheets (image), and like any complex tool, these skills take time to develop. There are plenty of resources you can use to start brushing up on your Excel know-how, but if you’re not yet an Excel pro, we’d recommend sticking to templates.
Secondly, using a file-sharing system to track action items (like Word and Excel) comes with the danger of someone accidentally deleting that file. If you spend months building an excel file, it only takes a second for someone to unintentionally delete it.
The added step required to remedy this is to create backup files (which have to be updated frequently)…
Trello is a simple way to keep track of action items on a digital Kanban/Scrum board. Some teams prefer to work this way, and there are a lot of added benefits to managing a project with this medium, such as:
- It’s visual – we are inherently visual people, so looking at a project with a high-level view gives you the ability to see what everyone else is working on and how it relates to your action item
- You get notifications – when you assign someone to an action item, that person will get a notification when you give them an assignment (so you don’t have to send them an additional message)
- You can create checklists within an action item card – some action items require multiple steps, Trello allows you to go even further with your action item and list out all the individual sub-tasks within that action item
Trello does offer a free version, but if you need a bit more from the tool you have to spend a little money. But if you have a smaller team and budget is a factor, it’s worth checking out.
The added benefit to using Asana is seeing your project on a Gantt-style chart. Rather than building and maintaining your own Gantt chart, Asana does that work for you.
Like Trello, Asana also gives you much of the same board functionality, like:
- Marking action items with due dates – when an action item is close to its deadline, the person who was assigned to that task will receive a reminder via email
- Prioritizing action item cards – you can label each action item as a low, medium, or high priority
- Seeing deadlines on a calendar – you will be able to see which tasks are due on which date in a high-level calendar view
The free version of Asana does limit you to a basic search functionality and limits your team to 15 members. If you have a bigger team, you’ll have to pay for a subscription.
However, if you have a smaller team that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of a paid subscription, the free version is a good option.
Best of all, no template building required.
Hendrix is something new – he’s a meeting assistant powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing.
Hendrix allows you to simplify your meetings with automatic meeting transcription, summarization, and action item recording.
You also have the option to review your meeting transcript, edit it, and add any other action items you may have missed during the live transcription.
And the best part is, Hendrix consolidates your summaries (complete with tracked action items) into your dashboard, so your minutes will never fall into a black hole…instead they're easily searchable by keyword, date, attendee name, etc.
This tool is perfect for impromptu meetings-on-the-go to ensure everyone stays accountable.
Hendrix offers a 14-day trial and a monthly subscription. So, if you and your team want to be as hands-off in your meeting as you possibly can, tools like Hendrix allows you to automate the meeting process so you can start working on your action items as quickly as possible.
Don’t forget to follow up
It’s important to keep tabs on your team’s action items, but it’s also easier said than done.
Timelines shift very frequently in a fast-paced environment and other people’s action items can affect yours and vice versa. Every project encounters at least one hurdle, so the easiest way to keep an open channel of communication is to use tools (like the ones above) to help you and your team stay on top of your deadlines.
With the help of these tools, no action item will be missed, and no important opportunities will fall through the cracks.
Best of luck out there.