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No phone alerts, meditation and more: What the CEO of a $3.5 billion ag-tech company does to think creatively

Email. Slack. Texts. Social media. It's a wonder anyone ever crosses to-dos off their list, let alone has the focus to do any creative, innovative thinking.

That's precisely why CEO David Perry, 50, has turned off alerts on his phone. And why he is not part of the Slack channel for the tech company he runs. He does it to give himself time and space to think creatively, he says.

"I make decisions so that I don't get interrupted during the day," Perry tells CNBC Make It. "I try to be able to think in discrete periods of time uninterrupted."

It seems to be working. Perry is the president, CEO and director of Boston-headquartered Indigo, an agriculture technology start-up valued at $3.5 billion, according to Axios.

David Perry, CEO of Indigo
Photo courtesy Indigo
David Perry, CEO of Indigo

Indigo, named to the 2018 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, is working to improve the environmental sustainability of farming, while also improving the nutrition value of food and the profitability of farmers, by using naturally occurring microbes in place of chemical fertilizer, according to Perry.

"Modern agriculture's really built on technologies that were created decades ago: synthetic fertilizer, synthetic chemicals, GMOs and plant breeding. We're taking an entirely new approach," Perry told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer in May.

"I think this is an opportunity to see a revolution in agriculture using naturally discovered microbes to improve yields of plants and also to protect them against pests and insects so we can reduce the amount of fertilizer used and the amount of agricultural chemicals used," Perry said.

Indigo declines to share revenue figures but has raised $650 million in venture capital, and since 2015, when Perry started (a year after the company was founded), the business has grown from 14 people to just shy of 700.

Leading a rapidly growing company and an ag-tech "revolution" certainly takes innovation. Here are three techniques Perry has developed to carve out time in his busy schedule for creative thinking.

1. Meditate every morning

Perry sets himself up for the day with a mindful analysis of what is most important.

"I take some time every morning when I wake up to to meditate, to think about what's what's going on during the day: What am I worried about? what do I think is important?" Perry says.

The ag-tech CEO is part of a growing trend of C-suite meditators.

Bridgewater Associates' founder, co-chief investment officer and co-chairman Ray Dalio is a huge proponent of meditation. "Transcendental Meditation has probably been the single most important reason for whatever success I've had," says Dalio.

Marc Benioff also relies on meditation: "Having a beginner's mind informs my management style," the Salesforce CEO tells The New York Times. "I'm trying to listen deeply, and the beginner's mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment."

2. Prioritize

To lead his a rapidly growing, high-tech agriculture and machine learning start-up (Indigo uses genetic sequencing and machine learning to develop seed treatments from microbes) Perry needs to be ruthless about prioritizing. That's why he's nixed alerts and Slack instant messaging.

"I think about it as being able to think about things that are important rather than just the things that are urgent," Perry says.

Turning off the notifications on your phone can increase productivity, according to productivity expert Chris Bailey, who is the author of "Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distractions."

"One of the most productive things you can do is go through the notification settings on your phone and disable any alert, audible or vibrating, that you don't want to lose 26 minutes of productivity over," Bailey tells CNBC Make It.

3. Take notes

"I write down everything," the CEO tells CNBC Make It. "If there's something I need to do or a reminder, I write it down so it frees me up to be able to think about other stuff."

Perry is not alone in taking copious notes.

Former start-up investor, star on ABC's reality show "Shark Tank" and billionaire Chris Sacca recently tweeted his observation: "Successful people take notes."

Noted start-up accelerator Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham agrees with the sentiment.

"That's one of the things I've noticed about startups during [Y Combinator]. The founders who take notes are more likely to succeed," Graham tweeted. "Jessica and I had dinner with [Airbnb co-founder] Brian Chesky last summer, and he was taking notes during dinner."

— Video by Taylor Moore

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