How To Keep things Running Smoothly when Collaborating with a Friend
Photo courtesy of 'littlebirth'.

How To Keep things Running Smoothly when Collaborating with a Friend

Written by Joshua Lundquist

Topics: Productivity

I started collaborating with a friend on a digital record label a few months ago. We have big aspirations for this project. Aside from releasing albums, we are hoping to license music for commercials, films, YouTube videos, etc.

My friend and I had spent two years collaborating on a project before that (a video and audio podcast with original music by us), and true to our multipotentialialite nature, we figured out how to stay committed to it by incorporating a variety of media and processes. The first collaboration worked out so well, that I thought he and I could perhaps do another project and start a business together.

Initial Enthusiasm and The Reality Hangover

Our new project started out like a lot of projects do, with enthusiasm and a lot of talking about what we hoped to do and what we hoped would happen.  I went full force with my various skills, creating a newsletter and designing a website alongside doing animation for our music videos and mixing our songs down.  My partner sang vocals and did artwork and writing–both lyric writing and blog post & newsletter writing.

The reality of the situation didn’t reveal itself until some time passed. It turned out there was an imbalance in our working relationship because my partner was less experienced than I was in a few areas and I was towing the line to compensate for his lack of experience in a these areas. He ended up feeling more like an employee than a partner, because I was always a step or two ahead of him and had to tell him how to do things.  It turned into a bit of an unequal situation, and it was clear that we needed to discuss our ways of working and do more thrashing.

Thrash At The Beginning

Seth Godin mentions in his book The Dip that you should do all of your thrashing at the beginning of a big project or commitment, not halfway through or when you hit your first obstacle–but as soon as possible.  That way you can decide ahead of time under which circumstances you will quit and whether it’s worth all the work and enduring initial bumps at the early stages.

What Does Thrashing Mean?

If you’re at the beginning stage of working with someone on a project, “thrashing” might mean laying out and discussing all of your respective ideas, hopes and assumptions related to the project right away so you can have a proper analysis of what will be involved.

A podcast, by comparison, is something you can pretty much walk into without too much planning, and the schedule is set–one episode a week or every other week or one a month.  If you wait much longer than that between publishing, nobody will remember your last episode.

In a business, however, you have to set your own standards and parameters, and with a collaborator / partner this is true x 2.  So do yourself a favor and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible at the beginning.  Some questions that might be worth considering include:

  • Will this person do their part of the work?
  • Will you lose interest in this business or project if you go the conventional route?
  • Will your partner accept your desire to change things up?  Are they flexible?
  • Do you both have the same thing in mind for this project?

All of these are super important things to think about, so let me give you some ideas here:

Let Your Partner Know You Are A Multipotentialite

…and if they don’t know what that is, choose some articles here on Puttylike and make sure they are pretty clear on what it means to be one.

Not that you need to “warn” people about your multipotentiality, but in a way it is like a superpower, and when superhero’s hide their superpowers, it always backfires on them.  Maybe that’s a dumb analogy, but it makes sense.

It’s kind of great that you can tell someone about your habits and your way of thriving, almost like handing them an instruction booklet.  “If you allow me to do this, if you give me the freedom to do A, B, C, I will work hard and be satisfied also.”

Obviously, your instruction booklet would have a warning about over-use.  Just because you can do and want to do several things, that does not mean you should do more work than the other person.  You just want and need a variety of work, and can’t be bothered with the same tasks all the time.

This is easy territory for us multipods to get a bit trampled on, people might hand too much off to you as if you had multiple brains each with their own sets of eyes and limbs, or they might let their work slide and not holding up their end of the project.  We multipotentialites are so used to bending our will to the specialized-oriented world that we may end up suffocating our multi-passionate spirit in the process of trying to please a non-multipotentialite.  Handle yourself with care.

Also, it’s just as important that you know who your partner is in terms of their work habits and needs as they know yours.  Don’t dwell on your multipotentiality as if you’re a special flower, make sure you know their unique way of working, too.  For this, I recommend reading the Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder book, which has 34 descriptors for types of people in terms of their work habits.  If you know your partner’s work style and what they get their satisfaction from, you can predict how well you will work together.

Decide What Both Of Your Long Term Priorities Are

In life it’s good, not just for multipotentialites but for everyone, to have priorities in several different areas.  Spending time with family or friends might be a big priority, or going on solo trips outdoors, or you may want to write a book or a screenplay sometime soon.

These don’t need to interfere with your business or project (and obviously keep an eye out for where you can incorporate them) but knowing the other person’s priorities keeps you open to imagining a business that accommodates these priorities.  Also, you don’t need to plan into the next decade, though it is a good way of feeling out how far in the future your partner is willing to take this collaboration.

The important priorities to look at are the ones that concern the project you are doing together.   What is a priority for each of you?  I recommend writing these priorities out individually before talking about them.  If you’re just talking, you’ll be tempted to just agree and then you won’t know where you differ.  List them up on your own and then go back and forth with each other, making sure to delve into what each priority really means to one another.  You and your partner may use the same words but not necessarily be saying the same thing.

Obviously, making money would be a priority if you are running a business, but what this means isn’t always obvious to everyone, so you need to be clear here on what you are willing to do to make that work and how much money you want to bring in.  The whole activity of breaking down and listing up your priorities is also a good way of finding out what are not your partner’s priorities.  If your partner’s priorities are having a certain amount of free time / unwinding time / family time every day, that might mean they do not want to work past a certain hour each day.  So you will have to be clear how much each of you is willing to work.

Do Your Short Term Priorities

…things that start with “We should probably…”

Once the long term priorities and non-priorities are figured out and you both understand each other’s terms, you can decide what you should do in the short term.  Once the short term goals are set, you can break them down into general daily or weekly duties, though To Do lists will obviously change as time goes by.

This seems easy, but for multipotentialites, we may try to bite off more than we can chew, that is kind of our thing.  We’ll end up essentially making ten things a top priority when there should only be one at a time.  Your partner can help you focus your energy into one task at a time, doing things in a linear way rather than taking on all tasks at once.  Then, as time goes on and you know what your tasks are, as a multipotentialite you will naturally slip into the mode where you rotate amongst the buffet of tasks throughout the day or week.

For me, this meant working on album cover art for an hour or two, then tweaking the final mix of the music, then going to write and email and connect with other artists or music bloggers and then editing a video or writing a blog post.

Schedule Down Time / Quality Time With Your Partner (and Yourself)

…to make sure you break up the routine and get perspective

Make time to hang out with your friend and talk about the larger perspective, where you are going, why you’re doing this, etc. This is an easy habit to forget. It’s especially important if things get stressful.  Make time to communicate and get the immediate concerns out of your head and you should be able to re-align your shared vision.  There’s a chance that after some time, you will need to go back to the first step and reassess priorities.

Make sure to also spend time reflecting on your own or you could lose sight of why you’re doing this project.  It might be easy to convince yourself not to do it, but those feelings often are related to resistance–once you let them pass and do the work, you remember why you’re doing it.  If you truly don’t feel the desire to continue even after taking some time on your own, you should ask yourself some questions to see what your reasons are.

Try To Establish Interdependence

…where you only check in with each other after you’ve done something

Don’t text first thing in the morning to check in with each other, unless it’s absolutely necessary.  You should each know what you’re going to do already.  Try deciding the next day’s To Do list at night, take a few minutes to remind yourself what you’ll be doing the next day.  This is worth talking about with your partner, and oftentimes deciding what to do the next day goes smoother at night when you have already accomplished something that day and you have some perspective on things.

Allow your partner to think for themselves about what should be done next.  Chances are there are a number of things you could do, including some of their tasks.  Part of interdependence is giving your partner plenty of room.  Since you are dependent on each other, your individual efforts are mutually beneficial.  If you start taking over their tasks, you’ll have the employer-employee dynamic happening.

If you find that your partner isn’t doing as much work as you, hold on to that thought for the next time you meet.  Jot down when and what made you aware of this.  When you meet to talk you can bring this up nicely, being diplomatic about it.  It might be a simple thing that prevented them from doing their part, or they might have a lame excuse.  Either way, save that for a meeting instead of confronting them right away and implying they’re slacking.

Occasionally Discuss If You Need A Change Of Direction

…to keep it interesting for both of you

This goes hand in hand with establishing your priorities.  Sometimes you’ll find that you’re holding on to priorities and goals you talked about a long time ago just out of habit. If you are doing anything out of habit or without seeing the significance of doing it, it’ll feel false and obviously you won’t do a very good job.  In this case, it might be time to reassess your priorities and come up with a new direction. Also, you may be feeling like abandoning the project when really you are just wanting to drop one aspect of it.  Which brings me to the final point, which is multipotentialite-specific.

Make Sure The Project Meets Your Needs As A Multipotentialite.

…whatever your project is, make the umbrella big enough to fit your multiple interests

This is probably the most obvious and important thing about any project–especially a collaboration.  After all, down the road if you lose interest and can’t keep it up, you will have another person to answer to.  There’s nothing wrong with quitting, so long as you’re sure you’ve hit your true end point and aren’t just dealing with some Resistance.

Your Turn

Have you ever collaborated with someone who may or may not have been a multiopentialite?  What suggestions do you have for making it work?

joshJosh is a plate spinner, constantly working on music, web design, video and graphics for his online record label. He’s based out of Tokyo, living with his wife and 3 year old daughter. While there is a word for “multipotentiality” in Japanese (Tano), Japan is very much a culture of taking interests, skills & crafts to extreme levels of specialized knowledge (see “Otaku”). You can find his work at or find him on Twitter @lundquistjoshua.


  1. Jo says:

    I reeeeeally want to do this! I think I’d do so much better collaborating with someone rather than going it alone. I have a big google doc full of considerations like the ones you’ve mentioned with a fellow puttypeep but we’ve both decided we just have too many other things on the go at the moment. Boo to having a finite amount of time! Will try and remember to re-read your post when that day comes though! Cheers.

    • Emilie says:

      Love puttypeep collaborations, so let me know when it happens. :)

      I also know the “one day, we must do this! but not this very second…” feeling. Picking a month ahead in the future has worked for me before.

  2. Joshua Lundquist says:

    Thanks, hope this article helped! I think it’s definitely worth it collaborating, even if it gets tough.

    I think Emilie’s idea of the short term collab, like when she drove to LA to record an album with a friend for a month, is totally ideal.

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