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What is an Action Item?
Action items are work items requiring someone to perform follow up. Examples of action items are "Get Keys," "Drive to Library," "Go to Hold Desk," "Pick up books." Action items differ from the standard "task" in that they are driven by execution, and they are broken down into the smallest single action possible. The reason for creating an action item rather than a "task" is that by breaking down a task into the next action, you avoid the problem where you go to do something (i.e. drive to the library) and realize an important step is missed (i.e. the keys are missing).
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How are Action Items Created?
Action items are created from a specific objective. In the above example, the objective was to pick up the books that are on hold at the library. This might seem very simple at first glance, but I used this example to demonstrate the thought process in creating excellence in action items. The more specific and distinct an action item is, the more likely it is to be created. The first thing to do when creating an action items list is to ask yourself "What has to be done first?" In order to pick up the books on hold at the library, you first have to get to the hold desk at the library. To get to the hold desk, you have to get to the library. To get to the library, you have to drive. In order to drive, you must have the keys.
Action items should have a specific time frame in which they must occur. If I don't get to the library before a specific date, my books will no longer be on hold, and I might not be able to check them out. They can be identified by anyone. The library emailed me to inform me that my books are on hold. Action items can also lead to putting out fires. If I pick up my books as they come in, rather than wait until they all come in, I could be driving back and forth to the library all day. Thus, action items should be carefully managed by using an action item log or tracking system. More information on how to track action items will be discussed in the next article in this series. For additional information, you may wish to read Joe Taylor Jr.'s article "Web Based Action Item Tracking."
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How are Action Items Closed?
Action items are closed when they have been completed or when they are no longer needed. You should follow up on your action plan, or project to ensure that all action items are assigned. If they are not assigned or executed, then they will not be completed. A successful action item is one that lends itself to being finished.