Today’s post is the featured article from the May 2011 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-newIt’s a really important question for us to ask every now and then. In other words … does what I do really matter? And do I know what really matters about it? It is easy to get caught-up in the inertia of our schedule, our to-do’s and our endless list of commitments. It is just as easy to get caught-up in our routines … simply going through the motions of each 24-hour cycle, each week, each month and each year.

But with what you do … does it really matter? Does it really matter to you? If you stopped doing “it” would it matter to you? Would it matter to anyone? It must matter or you would have stopped doing it a long time ago. Maybe.

Imagine if you got up each morning and decided to do only what really mattered.

But would you know? Would it be clearly evident to you? Could you make a quick list of your “what really matters” and eliminate your “matterless?” We might have more free time on our hands than we would think!

What we do has the potential to really matter … especially if we stay connected to understanding the matter at hand. That is if we remain intentionally aware of why we do what we do. In a world of endless measurements, it is easy to let reports, results, and efficiency be all that matters. We can get very efficient at a lot of things that really don’t matter. We can also become ineffective at the things which really do matter.

Without understanding what really matters, it is also hard to nurture passion for what we do.

I think this is harder than it appears to be. I know, because I often fail at getting it right. In a profession where I am constantly faced with which projects and clients to invest my focus, time and energy … I can easily get foggy on what matters and go down dead-end pathways.

Part of the disconnect has to do with genuine gratitude for the gift of each day … or I should say the lack of it. Do you get up each day with a keen appreciation for a new day? If we did, I think we would, more often, think harder about what we might be willing to trade for the value of this 24-hour period. We get this when someone asks us how we would spend our time if we only had one day left to live. But that is artificial … it eliminates many of the pressures of our day-to-day life if we are here today and gone tomorrow. I’m talking about truly appreciating today knowing there may be thousands more days to follow … yet seeing each one as incredible in and of itself. For it is incredible … especially when you know that each and every one of them has the potential to matter in whatever season of life you currently happen to be.

Beyond gratitude, I think another disconnect looms. It is challenging, if not impossible, to understand what really matters if we are not specifically aware of the core values which drive us … both personally and organizationally. A lack of understanding of our core values is often the missing link to understanding what really matters day-to-day. Core values exist whether we understand them or not. If we are not intentional about them, they still evolve and drive our daily actions. And without core values being intentionally selected, we still live them but are not passionately connected to them. And they can lead us to do a long list of “matterless” stuff.

Leadership has never been more important. In a world filled with exponentially increasing capabilities of technology to monitor and drive our behaviors, substantive leadership is critical. Leadership gives birth to core values.

Leaders of substance are nothing short of the keepers-of-the-core.

Leaders of substance keep us focused on living from an intentional core that allows us to put our day-to-day efforts around what is most valuable. This is easier said than done … whether as an organizational leader or in leading our own life. Distractions, expectations, metrics and rewards disconnected from the core can easily cause us to drift. Measurements and rewards are a responsible tool when they are connected to the core. They are tragic undermines when not.

Gratitude for each day and an intentional set of core values provide a solid framework in helping us know how to use the next 24-hours on what really matters. They may not immediately eliminate the “matterless” tasks of our life, but they will certainly begin to move you towards a daily life that really matters.

I remember in the 8th grade, when you raised your hand, my teacher would always ask … “What’s the matter?” I think she meant “what’s wrong.” As a matter of fact, today, I see it as an excellent question for asking … what’s right!