I’ve always wanted to believe that whatever I team I worked with was productive. I didn’t want an assembly line or a pristine environment where mistakes couldn’t be made; I wanted a place where ideas thrived, people liked working there, and everyone was clear about what was important.

Of course, a team like that does not come without work, listening, and a little bit of know-how. Today, I want to share a little bit of what I’ve learned about how to make your team more productive. Here is my advice:

1. Install a Project Management System

When I first managed a creative team, our entire project list was on white board. While in theory it was a good start, it wasn’t able to handle the constant changes of deadlines, requirements, and other details about each project.

A good project management system like Asana or Basecamp is like having an external brain for your team. (Remember, your brain is for making decisions, not holding information. Read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen to learn more about this principle.) It’s not a great idea to expect your team members to remember details of assignments, deadlines, and where the finals of files are to be delivered. Instead, keep all that information in your project management system.

A project management system will increase your team’s productivity by helping them to use their thinking to focus on creating versus thinking about things that are not critical to the task at hand.

2. Define Priorities so They’ll Be Productive, Not Busy

When most of your team members start their day, they’re usually presented with two options. Option one is to complete the most difficult task that needs to get done. Option two, is focus on the easier tasks which more than likely, could be completed in a quick manner. Most people pick option two.

This isn’t to say that people are lazy. Instead, we’ve trained ourselves to take the easier option so that we can feel a sense of completion, and while we may feel like we’re being productive, we’re actually just being busy.

If you have a good project management system, use it to communicate clearly to your team what the priorities are. Yes, it may feel like you’re having to micromanage your team, but since you more than likely have a higher level view of what’s important, you can help shape for your team what’s really important to your organization.

3. Stop Emailing Them Throughout the Day

One of the bad habits I picked up early in life was constantly checking my email throughout the day. I would then race through and answer them as quick as possible, priding myself on my expediency.

What I didn’t realize was that I was shifting my attention away from the task at hand hundreds times a day and this shifting was actually reducing my productivity. Instead of doing the deep thinking a task would require, I was instead focusing on going back and forth with my email.

If you’re constantly emailing your team throughout the day, you’re training your team to do the same thing. If they see an email from you, they’ll more than likely stop what they’re doing and turn around email you right back, thereby breaking their focus on what they were working on.

So instead of emailing your team throughout the day, pick two times during the day to send and answer emails (I try to stick to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.). While you’re at it, turn off email notifications on your phone and desktop.

4. Hold Listening Sessions

I’ve always assumed that if someone from my team had a problem with me, a project, or a process, that they would ask for help. I also assumed that they would talk to each other about these problems as well. Well, those assumptions were wrong.

Recently, I started holding listening sessions with my team. The purpose of these sessions is to ask questions and listen. I don’t provide any feedback during the sessions, I just listen and ask questions. Once the team warms up, usually I can start to identify any processes, people, or projects that are weighing my team down and reducing our productivity.

The other side of the sessions is that the team members starts talking more amongst themselves. This usually leads to more ideas and a more open environment, both of which lead to being more productive.