Today’s post is the featured article from the October 2009 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newI clearly remember my 8th grade teacher. Sister Elizabeth was a wonderful teacher. There were a lot of things I liked about her. But one thing I did not. Anytime anyone raised their hand to ask a question, she would frown a bit and always ask, “What’s the matter?” And I would always say to myself, “nothing’s the matter … I just have a question.”

In a world producing a universe of options, there is a lot of matter. On the back cover of my book, GOOD to the CORE, we wanted to showcase one quote that captured the essence of the book’s message. Johann Von Goethe’s quote nailed it:

“Things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

The first question becomes, “so … what’s the matter?” We, first, need to see it to be able to sort it … to prioritize it. As I talk with professionals from coast to coast, I hear an increasing number of people who say they are drowning in “the matter.” For a decade, for many, email has created a reactive pattern of work. Some have managed to lasso their flood of electronic matter by thoughtfully processing what matters without falling prey to the distraction of what doesn’t. Most would tell you that is their goal … not their reality.

Social media is filled with chatter matter. Often times, two-way conversations are posted for all to read … as if it mattered to anyone else. I’ll leave social media etiquette to someone who understands it better than me. All I can suggest is there is a lot in social media that matters least. And you can’t control that.

What you can do is consistently ask the question … what’s the matter? You might say … wouldn’t a better question be … what matters? Yes, but not yet. You have to first focus on your matter before you can know what really matters. Maybe it is only me, but my take is there are others, too, who get numbly caught in just doing with little regard for intentionally focusing on all the matter. We find ourselves just doing social media, just doing social events, just doing relationships, just doing chores. Just doing! Have you ever intentionally gone to Facebook with a very short specific objective in mind and thirty minutes later found yourself floating from profile to profile … caught in endless matter?

One thing that is the matter … there is clearly more matter today. More to pile onto our plate. And we just keep piling it on.

I have recently been reading the initial manuscript for my good friend and long-time business coach, Mark LeBlanc. In his new upcoming new book, Never Be The Same, Mark shares this simple story of his father’s powerful insight:

It was pretty much the typical holiday for us. We gathered with friends and family. We ate and ate and drank. We watched football, played games and fell asleep off and on. Eventually, my dad and I were the last ones in the living room, and we got to talking. Dad had been thinking.

“You know what I noticed tonight, Mark? I watched everyone at the table. We always put too much food on our plate, and we always take servings of things we don’t really want. Instead of doubling-up on the things we really want, everybody takes a dab of this, a little bit of everything. Just to be polite, I suppose. That is nice for Grandma, your mom and Aunt Jane or Georgia, but it doesn’t make sense,” he said, staring at the ceiling from his Lazy Boy. He pushed the handle on the side of the chair to sit upright and looked over at me. Thank goodness my eyes were open. “Think about it. Why do we do that? We put too much on our plates, and never get enough of what we really want.”

With Thanksgiving and the Holidays approaching, it is timely practical advice. In a world that is in slow motion compared to where we are headed, it is priceless wisdom.

How carefully are you choosing what you put on your plate? There is a lot of matter to choose from.

I remember frequently sitting in Sister Elizabeth’s class, just trying to think of a question to ask … simply to see if I could get her to ask her predictable question … “what’s the matter?” Almost without fail, she would ask it … and I’m sure I responded with a faint smirk and some pretty stupid question. Today, I think I would simply respond to her … “good question!”

Once the matter is defined, what matters most and what matters least becomes a bit more clear … if you know what you value!

When you make it a mission to know what matters most … you are far more likely to make today matter!