Better Meetings

How to effectively manage meeting action items + tasks

How to effectively manage meeting action items and tasks blog post featured image

You know how it goes: You have a meeting, your team members are full of ideas, and everyone’s committed to making them happen. Then a week goes by, and all those ideas are still just...ideas. Nobody knows whether anything has been done or what they were supposed to do in the first place. 

This is what happens when you don’t assign and track your action items. If you’ve been wondering how to have effective meetings, boost team accountability, and keep projects on track, you’ve come to the right place. 

This guide explains everything you need to know about meeting action items, including what they are and how to get the most out of them.

Table of contents

  • What are meeting action items?

  • Why are action items important?

  • Action items vs. tasks

  • 3 examples of meeting action items

  • 5 tips to effectively manage action items

  • How to write meeting action items in 4 easy steps

  • How to track meeting action items

  • How to follow up on meeting action items

What are meeting action items?

Meeting action items are tasks assigned to one or more team members during a meeting.  Action items represent immediate steps needed to achieve a larger objective for an ongoing project. 

Each action item should have:

  • A clear description of the task

  • An assignee or task owner who’s responsible for completing the assigned tasks

  • A due date (even if that's a "due by the next meeting" type of timeline)

Action items allow you to take action on the decisions you make at meetings. 

Why are action items important?

Projects need well-executed action items. Without them, teams aren’t organized, accountable, and well-equipped to get things done. 

Action items are created and clarified at meetings. When people leave a meeting, they should have a clear understanding of what to do next and how their assigned action items fit into the larger goals of the organization. 

Whether you’re running a project kickoff meeting, daily standup, or any other kind of team meeting, action items and a solid action plan help:

  • Keep the team aligned on next steps and the overall project plan

  • Clarify who needs to do what 

  • Establish accountability with due dates and project timelines 

Action items vs. tasks

Believe it or not, in project management there’s a difference between action items and tasks.

The main difference between is that tasks are activities that need to happen to complete a project. Action items are steps to remove barriers to completing tasks. Task barriers are concerns, problems, or outstanding questions that prevent a team member from completing a task. 

Writing a piece of software or putting together standard operating practices for onboarding are tasks. Writing meeting minutes, calling a project stakeholder to discuss a bottleneck, or creating a graphic for a blog post are action item examples.

Another difference between tasks and action items is their duration. A task’s duration usually lasts weeks or months. An action item, however, is brief, taking minutes or a few hours at most to complete. 

3 examples of meeting action items

When you’re writing a list of action items during a meeting, keep them descriptive yet brief, and assign an owner and due date. Here’s what this can look like:

➡️ Put together a social media calendar

Dennis will put together the Q2 social media calendar, using Ava’s analysis of the previous quarter’s engagement metrics. Due date: March 15

➡️ Compile a list of bloggers in our niche

Pamela will compile a list of the 10 most influential bloggers in the U.S., so we can contact them for guest posts and link building. Due date: August 15 

➡️ Create thumbnail for next video tutorial

Anna will create a thumbnail for the “How to Crush SaaS SEO in 37 Easy Steps” YouTube video tutorial. Due date: October 23 

How to effectively manage action items

If actionable decision-making is the purpose of your next meeting, improving your action item management will go a long way toward actually putting ideas in motion. 

Every effective meeting comes with an agenda and solid meeting notes. These are the building blocks of action item management. Here, we’ll break down how you can use these tools to get things done with action items.

A graphic with 5 tips to effectively manage meeting action items

✅ Set a meeting agenda 

Whether you’re having an in-person or virtual meeting, embarking on it without an agenda is like setting out on a road trip without a map. 

Productive meetings need a well-written meeting agenda that will help you:

  • Explain the meeting’s purpose 

  • Keep your team on track 

  • Define responsibilities

Meeting agendas typically consist of a list of topics, action items, and activities you want to discuss at the meeting. 

If you don’t know where to start with your next agenda, some meeting platforms like Vowel!) have built-in tools to help. 

A screenshot of Vowel's shared notes and action items feature

Feel free to use a Vowel meeting agenda template or write your own. When you use Vowel, you won’t need to share your meeting agenda as a separate document. Instead your agenda will be shared in the meeting invite and displayed to everyone as part of the meeting.

✅ Communicate changes to action items immediately

It happens — you have a meeting, assign an action item, then you learn something new that affects the action item. It may need to be done sooner, later, differently, or not at all. 

Also, as people start working through their to-do lists, they may discover they don’t have the information they need to complete the action item.

To minimize delay, always communicate changes as they happen. Consider using an action tracker or project management tool that will allow you to communicate these changes in one central place.

✅ Use a project management tool

Tasks and action items quickly pile up, and without a system in place to organize and track them, you’ll have a hard time knowing who’s doing what and how close they are to finishing. 

To keep yourself and your team organized, use a project management tool that fits your company and management style (some favorites include Asana, Notion, ClickUp, and Trello).  

Meeting software can help complement your project management tool with organized  meeting minutes and post-meeting recaps. Use the information in these documents to populate your project management tool.

A screenshot of Vowel where users can view meetings from their dashboard

✅ Track progress with check-ins

Action items need check-ins because — let's face it — any number of things can get in the way of a completed action item. A team member may not have all the information they need, and they may be afraid to ask for it. A check-in gives them the chance to gather more information.  

Vowel makes it easy to add notes and action items as part of your check-ins, so you can easily access them at any time. Vowel groups recurring meetings automatically to streamline the conversations you’re having with your team members regularly and lets you add action items to your meeting notes.

Vowel in-meeting with emojis feature

✅ Set realistic deadlines

You may be tempted to commit to deadlines that are unrealistic. In the moment, we want to show others we can get things done quickly. But more often than not, this leads to unrealistic deadlines that over promise but underdeliver. 

Set realistic deadlines that take into account your team’s actual workload. If you put too much pressure on them (and yourself) you’ll only contribute to stress and burnout.

How to write meeting action items in 3 easy steps

The beauty of action items lies in their simplicity. Here are some best practices to help you quickly write clear, time-bound action items for your team.

1. Assign an owner and clearly specify what needs to be done

Assigning a clear owner to each action item creates accountability and clarity. Avoid ad hoc one-on-one meetings by assigning roles during team meetings.  

All assignees should walk away knowing exactly what they need to do. When writing action items, include all relevant context, dependencies, contact information, instructions. It’s better to be wordier than you’d like in the beginning, so you can save time on back-and-forth later. 

Tip: Use meeting software that includes time-stamped transcripts. This allows assignees to review when an action item was noted and go back to the recording for context.

2. Set due dates

When setting a due date, be realistic about your team's workload and performance. Setting unrealistic due dates may lead to frustration, as deadlines are missed, other action items are affected, and morale starts to dip. 

On the other hand, you don’t want to be too flexible either and let everyone take advantage by ignoring due dates. That’s definitely not the road to having an accountable team.

3. Assign priorities

If you’ve assigned more than one action item to the same person, consider adding priority tags. Multitasking may be something we think we can do well , but scientific studies tell us that it just doesn’t work.

Your team members should feel they can give their full attention to one task or action item at a time. Setting priority levels will let them know where to direct their attention first.

How to track meeting action items

Action items you don’t track can lead to wasting time. Here are some of the best ways to track meeting action items so you’re using your time well: 

  • Ask for updates: If a due date is approaching but you haven’t heard from the action item assignee, it’s time to ask for an update. The update will serve to refocus their attention on completing the action item. 

  • Send reminders using automated emails: Project management tools allow you to set up automatic reminder emails, which alert owners of deadlines a few days before they’re due. 

  • Track progress with your meeting tool: Action item and meeting centralization is a great way to know when it’s time to ask for an update. With Vowel, you can track action items you assigned to others as well as your own. Action items are grouped by the meetings they came from, so you’ll have an easier time navigating them. 

A screenshot that shows how Vowel groups all meeting action items

How to follow up on action items

Following up and checking in are crucial components of any action-item tracking process. 

The best way to do this is to build reporting and tracking into your daily workflow. This will make it much easier for project managers and other stakeholders to follow a project’s progress. Tracking also lets each contributor see how a project is progressing beyond their own role. 

One way to do this is to insert action items into a project management system like Asana, ClickUp, or Trello. 

You can also follow up on any outstanding action items in your next meeting. Vowel lets you check past notes from recurring meetings (they’re all saved automatically 😉) and see whether any action items remain unaddressed.

Previous notes in Vowel GIF

Example of an action-item email

Another way to follow up on action items is with an email — though with the right project management tool, you shouldn't need to (unless someone is outside your organization). Here’s a quick template: 

Hi {Name}

I wanted to follow up on our {type of meeting} about {meeting subject} on {date of meeting}. You were assigned {action item} and the due date for this was {due date}. 

Do you have an update on the item? 

Thanks, 

{Your Name}

Improve the way you manage action items with your meeting software

Action item management doesn’t need to be complex. The good news is there are tools to help you streamline it and do it quickly and efficiently. 

With Vowel, you get the high-quality video calls, plus automatic transcription and recording, collaborative meeting notes, and action-item tracking. Sign up today for free!