How to Ensure There’s Enough Time to Assign Action Items

Posted on Posted in Meetings

One of the most common complaints related to meetings is that they end without any assigned actions. You may have had a very engaging discussion, but when people walk away from a meeting without any plan for follow through they assume the time spent was largely wasted.

So what prevents us from assigning action items? Here’s a common scenario that I see all the time: the meeting leader is engaged in the conversation and looks at the clock and notices there’s only five minutes left. Where did the time go! They think to themselves. At this point, the leader tries to throw down some action items at the last minute just as people are packing up their things ready to go. The result? A half-baked action plan (or none at all).

The way to solve this problem is to think of any meeting as having three acts. Every movie has three acts, and in meetings, just like movies, the third act is the most important. Have you ever been to a movie where most of the movie was fantastic, but the ending was just not very good? You leave with a bad taste in your mouth, don’t you? Well the same goes for meetings.

The key to ensuring you have an excellent third act is to manage the time effectively. Let me walk you through a quick exercise that will help you do just that. Pick a meeting that’s on your calendar that you’re going to be leading. Take a piece of paper and number 1, 2, and 3 down the left side of the paper.

Now, we’re going to decide on the three acts of your meeting.

The first two are going to depend on the kind of meeting. For example, let’s say this is a meeting whose primary purpose is coordination. Perhaps you decide that the first act is going to be divergence, the phase of the meeting where you hear everyone’s feedback. Then the second act will be convergence. This is where you address everyone’s concerns, and try to bring everyone on board to your plan. The third act is always about action. It’s the time where you assign action items and discuss a follow up plan based on what happened during the meeting.

Now that you have all three acts written on your paper, the next step is to write down an allotted time for each. These are rough estimates, so do your best, but make sure you leave plenty of time for act three. People almost always underestimate how much time they’ll need for this part of the meeting.

Great, now you have your three-act plan in hand that will guide you in managing the meeting time. Also, bring a timer. Seriously, it will really keep you on schedule. If a loud device is too bold, at least bring a vibrating alarm so you know when the time is up for each act. When you hear that alarm go off, you must as quickly as possible transition to the next act. In fact you may want to set it to go off five minutes before the end each act so that you have fair warning. Then move on quickly. The transitions they may be a little abrupt and uncomfortable but they’re crucial.