My To Do list is massive. So I have developed an action log to control my tasks, and those of the project team.
You can do the same, and honestly, it’s a game changer. The template I use is so simple (and you can grab it below from my project management resource library, which is full of templates).
Let’s learn about how to make the most of this amazing – and oh so simple – project management tool.
In this article:
- What is an action log?
- How I use the action log to track project tasks
- How To Use The Action Log Template
- How to write an action item
- What’s In the Action Log Template
- How to keep track of meeting actions
- What’s the difference between tasks on the action log and tasks on the schedule?
- Download the free action log template
What is an action log?
A project action log is simply a single place for your team’s To Do list. It consolidates all the actions from meeting minutes, phone calls, conversations and more.
It saves you having to flick between different meeting minutes, emails and your notebook to remember all the tasks you have to do – and your team members and suppliers have promised to do as part of the project.
It is different to your project schedule, because that covers the meatier, deliverable-based work. The action log is your single location for all the other small tasks and To Dos that come up every day on the project.
The action log I use is a simple spreadsheet.
How I use the action log to track project tasks
I copy and paste actions from conference calls, team meetings and those chance conversations you have in the corridor into this. I can filter it by task owner or workstream lead when I am talking to someone and want to chase them up.
I can filter out the closed tasks without having to delete them – it’s simple, but it works for me. It’s the best way I have found to stay on top of all the things I’m supposed to be doing and what others are supposed to be doing as well.
Here’s what one reader had to say about this template:
Your action log has changed my life. As I’ve used it for a few weeks now it’s also starting to become a source of reassurance as I look at items now closed and think, “Phew I have done stuff”.~ Caroline
And I’m giving it to you. If you want it. This free action log template is the one I use on all my projects.
It’s an Excel spreadsheet template will help you stay on top of your tasks.
How To Use The Action Log Template
Think of this as your amazing To Do list.
You record the task, who is responsible for it and what the latest updates are. You can add more updates as and when you need to, so that you keep the whole history of what is being done on that piece of work.
I like to record tasks that other people are responsible for as well. As a project manager, I’m responsible for checking in with others and making sure that they are doing the work that needs to be done.
In fact, making tasks transparent is one of the ways to get other people to take responsibility for their work.
Writing it down and sharing the list before each meeting makes it difficult for others to say that they didn’t know they had taken away an action from the previous meeting.
I talk about how to use an action log for your meeting action tracking and project management in the video below.
How to write an action item
As you can see from the examples below, the best practice is to start your action item with a verb.
- Create a slide deck
- Review the proposal from Finance
- Circulate vendor agreement
- Call Claire about the testing.
That helps focus the mind and keeps you on track with what actually needs to be done.
What’s In the Action Log Template
This task tracking template is a really simple spreadsheet. You could probably come up with it yourself, but why bother when I’ve done it for you?
The spreadsheet includes columns to help you track:
- Action/task number – this makes it possible for you to easily refer to an action on the list instead of having to describe the work
- The task description
- Where the task originated from (did it arise from a meeting, an email, a corridor conversation? Categorize the tasks if it helps)
- The action owner who is responsible for doing the task
- The date the action was first raised (you can also include target completion date if you find that helpful to manage action priorities)
- Updates, so you can track each little step that is taken towards completing the action
- Action status: open, closed, on hold, complete etc, so you can easily filter out things that you don’t need to be paying attention to right now.
As it’s an Excel spreadsheet template, you can add or remove columns to make it work for you. Other things you might want to track include:
- Action type: If you have different types of actions you could include those.
- Related risks: If this action is the result of a risk, you can reference the risk ID number here
- Related issues: As above, if the action is something you are working on as a result of an open issue, you can refer to the issue ID in the table
- Notes: Any extra notes or links to documents.
Personally, I would keep your columns to the minimum. The fewer columns, the less work it takes to fill them in and keep them updated! Don’t make extra work for yourself.
How to keep track of meeting actions
List your meeting actions in an action log. After each meeting, copy and paste actions from the minutes into the log.
You could create an action log for meetings and one for other types of actions, but frankly I prefer to have everything in one place so there are fewer documents to look up.
I designed the template with project managers (me) in mind but actually it works well for anyone who needs to keep track of multiple actions. That makes it great for people who attend a lot of meetings and want to consolidate the actions in a single place.
Pro Tip: Use the category/theme column to track which type of meeting generated which action. Then, before your next meeting, filter the column on that meeting and review the outstanding actions.
When you get to the meeting, things will go more smoothly and you should be registering more progress, because people reviewed and completed their tasks before you met.
At least, that’s the theory! In practice, most people need to be reminded of what they said they would do (especially on a large projects, or where they are managing multiple projects), so your task review needs to also include getting in touch with action owners and reminding them of the particular action they said they would complete.
You can adapt it as you see fit to make it work for you, add color coding or whatever you like.
What’s the difference between tasks on the action log and tasks on the schedule?
How do you decide whether a task is worthy of going on the project schedule, or whether it’s ‘just’ an action that can go in the log?
My rule of thumb is this:
If it’s an action that could have come from meeting minutes, then it goes in the action log.
All the small daily things that come up as you go about the work of managing the project can be included. For example, here are some tasks that you would not put in the schedule:
- Circulate a presentation following a meeting
- Follow up with another department about their input to the project
- Write an article for the staff magazine
team buildingor social events
- Phone someone to get their expert input on something
- Find out when something e.g. an approval meeting is happening and feed that back to the group
- Set up a meeting or organize follow up conversations
- Process purchase orders, quotes and invoices
- Prepare an ad hoc report as requested by the project sponsor
And so on.
Some of these are project admin activities. Some are small tasks that will take less than an hour. You shouldn’t fill up your schedule with those or you’ll constantly be updating it and that’s more work than recording things in a spreadsheet – and you project schedule will very soon be hundreds of lines.
Anything that represents a work package or deliverable needs to go on the project schedule.
Download the free action log template
Enter your email in the box below to get access to my free Resource Library. It has all of my free checklists, guides, and templates including the project action log.
The only thing I ask is that you don’t sell it on. As if you would!
What are the benefits of an action log?
The benefits of an action log are: keeping all actions together in one consolidated location, making it easy to see who is doing what, making it easy to see the status of open actions, and improving communication in the team.
What’s the purpose of an action log?
The purpose of an action log is to consolidate actions into one place to save time when you’re tracking and monitoring progress.
What is a project action?
A project action is something that needs to be done. It’s normally a smaller task than one that would be on the project schedule, like something agreed between the team in a meeting or an administrative or organisational activity.
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