Yesterday, after posting a link to a productivity guide recommending email be checked twice daily, I saw this leaked email from a big name at a litigation powerhouse:

Now more than ever there are many talented lawyers and law firms competing for our business. Doing really good legal work is not enough. Clients expect that and well they should given what we charge for our services You must all realize that we are in a service business. In this day and age of faxes, emails, internet, etc. clients expect you to be accessible 24\7. Of course, that is something of an exaggeration—but not much.

LESSON NUMBER ONE: You should check your emails early and often. That not only means when you are in the office, it also means after you leave the office as well. Unless you have very good reason not to (for example when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour. One of the last things you should do before you retire for the night is to check your email. That is why we give you blackberries. I can assure you that all of our clients expect you to be checking your emails often. I am not asking you to do something we do not do ourselves. I can assure you that [other big names at the firm], etc. all check their emails often.

I check my email frequently except when I don’t.

There’s two reasons for those times that I don’t.

First, to follow the advice of Seneca, himself a great trial lawyer, on keeping a law practice in perspective:

Look at those whose prosperity men flock to behold; they are smothered by their blessings. To how many are riches a burden! From how many do eloquence and the daily straining to display their powers draw forth blood! How many are pale from constant pleasures! To how many does the throng of clients that crowd about them leave no freedom! In short, run through the list of all these men from the lowest to the highest—this man desires an advocate, this one answers the call, that one is on trial, that one defends him, that one gives sentence; no one asserts his claim to himself, everyone is wasted for the sake of another.

But there are also less lofty reasons to avoid the siren song of the crackberry.

The second reason I take time off from email — both scheduled time and time as needed — is to follow Sun Tzu’s command: "Ponder and deliberate before you make a move."

Cognitive science agrees:

After a 30-minute study period, the students were separated into three groups to test their understanding of the larger "big picture" relationship between the individual patterns: Group One was tested after a period of 20 minutes; Group Two was tested after a 12-hour period; and Group Three was tested after a 24-hour time span. In addition, approximately half of the students in Group Two slept during the 12-hour period, while the other half remained awake. All of the students in Group Three had a full night’s sleep.

The test results showed striking differences among the three groups, especially between the students who had a period of sleep and those who remained awake.

"Group One, the students who were tested soon after their initial learning period, performed the worst," says Walker. "While they were able to learn and recall the component pieces [for example, Shape A is greater than Shape B, Shape B is greater than Shape C] they could not discern the hierarchical relationships between the pieces [Shape A is greater than Shape C] — they couldn’t yet see ‘the big picture.’"

Groups Two and Three, on the other hand, demonstrated a clear understanding of the interrelationship between the pairs of shapes.

"These individuals were able to make leaps of inferential judgment just by letting the brain have time to unconsciously mull things over," he says. But, perhaps most notable, he adds, when the inferences were particularly difficult, the students who had had periods of sleep in between learning and testing significantly outperformed the other groups.

Strategic planning and tactical maneuvering in litigation requires a lot of thought, including the serious application of inferential judgment and relational memory, the types of cognitive work that demand contemplation and downtime.

Make room for that cognitive work. The crackberry can wait.