Rule of Thumb
Most people outside the ambit of organization-dictated policies prioritize communication using informal rule of thumb methods, applying their experience and knowledge to select what ranks important and what does not subjectively. For instance, many people would treat an email from the boss as a priority and try to comply or reply to it first before processing to any other email, whereas others would treat each email by its merit regardless of the sender. The latter category may for instance, process an email from a junior system administrator requesting black listing certain websites that may compromise network security first before replying to the bosses' request for a routine update.
Many people prioritize on deadlines and visibility rather than on importance. For instance, a status report on a day when nothing worth reporting happened may take priority over calling up a potential customer simply because of the impending deadline for the report, vis-à-vis no laid down deadline for calling the customer. This is a classic case of the system impeding the objective rather than facilitating the same. Every second delayed in connecting with the customer increases the risk of competitors connected first and striking a deal, when the deadline notwithstanding, the manager would not even access the inbox until the next morning.
People also tend to process pressing communications first. How many times have you faced annoyance when you painstakingly took an appointment and traveled to meet a person face-to-face, only for the person to ignore you and attend to the telephone? The telephone invariably gets priority as it cries for attention, even when the caller tries to sell a credit card to the CEO of a bank. Make sure to determine priority and stick with it. Cut the phone except in that rare case when you are expecting a high-stakes incoming call, for a face-to-face conversation usually happens only when the matter requires high priority in the first place.
Most people prefer the easy over the difficult. For instance, how may times have you preferred to process easy emails or talk to people with whom you have a rapport first, when such emails or conversations could wait, and difficult emails that require some painstaking search for records, or talking to someone with whom you argued last week is of utmost importance and a greater priority?
Effective communications requires prioritizing on importance rather than on convenience.