Email can be very distracting and so we all try different techniques to limit those distractions. I am fairly settled now on an Inbox Zero type of approach. I don't always have me inbox open, I don't have any alerts or notifications and I read and file my mail at intervals during the day. It works for me for the most part and I don't find the nervous tick of checking my email every time my mind wanders to be too distracting.
All good, you may think. Lots of unbroken time for working on the real work but this does have one major fault. Less cake! Every so often we get an email that alerts us to the presense of cake in the building. These need an instant response. And this is where the cake flag comes in. Every time I get an email that is related to cake a Heath Robinson setup of filters, process and electronics kicks in a the cake flag is raised. We can then check our email and run to where the cake is. No more missed cake.
How does it work? There is a filter in gmail that identifies the important messages. (I know what you are thinking and unless you bring me cake an intentional false alarm means your email goes to the bottom of the long grass pile). This sends the email to another gmail account that I have registered for this porpose so that I don't have to store my main account details. I then have a small Python script that registers checks that gmail account for new mail. This then tells the Arduino on my desk, that is there to monitor if my chilli plant needs watering, that there is cake. The Arduino then prints a message on the LCD: ***CAKE*** and raised the cake flag by means of a servo. And everybody runs for cake.
There have been some improvements along the way. I have added a web api so people can reset the cake flag if I am not there. Later I noticed that we missed a call for Champagne this bug has now been fixed.