I’m a creative professional. My job as a designer is to solve problems creatively for my clients. My job as a writer is to find thoughtful, inspiring ideas to dialog and share with you, my readers. Whether I’m branding a company or drafting a simple piece for my blog, I’m creating something new.

For me, the key to creation is the ability to capture inspiration. And the shorter the length of time between inspiration and capture, the greater the chance my idea can grow into a finished product. So naturally I’ve begun to make intentional choices surrounding the capture of inspiration and thoughts. The secret is found in the tools, the commitment and the harvesting. Let me explain.

The Tools

The first thing you need to do is determine what tools can help you capture the inspiration that you encounter. A designer might look for ways to capture images or links, while a writer might need a simple and fast method for inputting thoughts, snippets of text or quotes heard in passing. Whatever your inspirational wheelhouse is, find the tools that empower you to capture efficiently and quickly.

For capturing thoughts, my tool of choice is SimpleNote. Whether I access it on my iPhone or through Notational Velocity on my computer, it’s always just a click away. In a moment of inspiration I can open the app, press the “+” symbol to start a new note, and type my thoughts. Finding a tool with little to no friction has allowed me to catch thoughts or ideas I would otherwise forget in the midst of my busy day.

Something to keep in mind: the best tool is the tool you always have with you. It’s true of cameras and mobile devices and notebooks and tire irons; if the tool isn’t with you, it’s useless, no matter how many features or how much power it might have. If I have to boil down the iPhone’s greatness into one notion, it would be that it offers the widest selection of tools to keep handy in your pocket. Voice memos, a camera (still and video), notepad, compass, GPS, etc can all be found or downloaded onto the single piece of hardware you take with you where ever you go.

My point? Find the right tools, and have them with you at all times.

The Commitment

Finding the right tools is only the beginning. You also need to commit to the tools you’ve chosen. Everyone has heard at least one parent on TV talk about how their child begged for ski equipment, only to use it for a month and then give up. Tools are fantastic, but without commitment they risk being left on a shelf to gather dust.

If your goal is to create a system for capturing visual inspiration, then find the right tools for the job – tools with the least amount of friction and complexity – and then commit to using them. Create a habit. Force yourself to use the tool every day, day after day, for a month. You’ll either learn that the tool is more difficult to use than you thought, or it will get easier and more habitual over time. And when the latter happens, you’ve won.

I have given myself the freedom to capture thoughts in SimpleNote in nearly every setting and situation. The smaller the list of exceptions to that rule the better, because the more I have to say “no” to a fresh idea – and inevitably lose it to the bustle of life – the less likely I am going to want to be creative. Why capture anything if there is a long lists of rules regarding the capturing process?

Commitment is about building those habits, letting them take root and allowing them to become second nature. Commitment is about believing that your process for capturing inspiration is worth the effort. But commitment isn’t the final piece.

The Harvest

Captured inspiration is only a snippet of text or a folder of images without harvesting them. You’re capturing for a reason, right? It’s a lot like farming. I’m not sure it’s possible to find a farmer who would go through the trouble to prepare the soil, plant the seeds and help their crop grow, only to leave it alone in the autumn and never harvest it. The harvest is the point, right?

Return to the items you’ve gathered on a regular basis. If it was thoughts or ideas for a few blog posts, take the time to sit down and write those posts. If it was a photo of a fantastic color palette for a design project, harvest the colors and put them to use in the design. Return to the inspiration you captured and reap the reward.

Without inspiration, most ideas would never grow and develop. And it’s safe to say that the difference between the average person and a successful one is the ability to effectively capture ideas and inspiration when they encounter them. How many people thought of something similar to the light bulb but never acted on it? How many visionaries dreamed of a way to send sound over wires before someone captured their ideas and harvested the results?

Find the right tools. Commit to using them. And harvest those ideas for success. You’ll be glad you did.