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When Michelle Fields wrote her life goals on 10 blue cards during graduate school in 2002, it was a simple experiment, a leap of faith. During the course of her work in accessories planning for Nike, she had stumbled upon a book about attracting what you want out of life by putting it down on paper. Would it work? She intended to find out.
Fields, a planner by nature, carefully considered what she wanted for her future and then jotted it down. Time passed—her days filled with work, school and a personal life—and Fields swept those cards into a box and forgot about them. That is, until she and her family moved to Wisconsin in 2012 after she accepted a dream position as director of E-Retail at Ashley Furniture Industries, the largest furniture manufacturer in the United States. While she was unpacking, she unearthed those forgotten blue cards in one of her boxes.
“Eleven years later, I had achieved over half of those goals,” says Fields. “The other four I hadn’t, but I’m on my way to achieving them.”
The most notable one? To work in the field of technology. Fields, who had earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Augustana College in South Dakota, started her career in customer service for Nike in 1999. As she worked her way up the ranks there, she quickly realized that she would need to continue her education if she wanted to get ahead. “The only way to be really successful is to: a) know somebody; or b) get an advanced degree and learn the skills the executive team and senior executive team [have].”
Fields enrolled in the MBA program at University of Phoenix where she discovered which industry excites her most. “I really enjoyed learning technology management,” she explains. “That really sparked a full-on passion and love for technology.” She earned her MBA in Technology Management in 2003.
Though she continued her customer service role at Nike for a few more years, she eventually transitioned into a planning analyst position where she implemented new process enhancements and reporting tools in support of company goals. She got married, and then, “I had the opportunity to move to Seattle and work for Eddie Bauer,” she says.
Two years later, she got her foot in the door in her field of choice as the marketing manager for Classmates.com. “I was able to work in technology, and that’s where I really learned online marketing,” she says. “I really enjoyed the fast pace and the ever-changing [environment].”
She and her husband then moved to Los Angeles where she became the director of marketing for the music subscription company Napster. In L.A., she found herself surrounded by likeminded people who were thrilled by innovation, too. “I think L.A. really is starting to rival the Silicon Valley for technology,” she asserts. “There are a lot of really great, inspiring individuals there who are very entrepreneurial. I had the opportunity to intermix with a lot of people on the cutting edge.”
Fields was buzzing with that sense of excitement when she was offered the opportunity to join Ashley Furniture in Wisconsin. Wanting to be closer to her family in Minnesota, Fields, along with her husband and young daughter, made their way to the Midwest.
“Ashley is really in the process of ramping up its e-commerce,” Fields notes. “I jumped at the opportunity to help lead its tactical and strategic direction to be able to sell online.”
Fields joined Ashley Furniture while its electronic retail plans were in their infancy, and she has been able to work on this project from the very beginning. Her dual role at the company includes strategic planning for e-commerce, as well as hands-on management of the team that is creating the company’s four new major websites, which will launch later this year. This includes working with internal IT and development teams as well as with outside agencies for design and programming, to name a few of the project’s key players.
“It’s a huge job, and it is very exciting,” she says. “I’m very thankful to have this opportunity to build the e-commerce portion of the Ashley business from the ground up. Any decision you make will affect the outcome [of the project] for years. There’s pressure to make the right decisions, but it’s also a really great feeling to know that people trust your opinion and experience.”
Now that Fields has achieved—or is well on her way to achieving—her original goals, she’s adding to her stack of blue cards. “I have some different goals, not necessarily career-wise, but for life,” she explains. “I’ve started to map out the rest of my life.”
Her new goals include finding balance between her career and her family, as well as aiming even higher than she did before. “Looking back, maybe I set my goals too low,” she reflects. “If you do set goals, you need to shoot really high. Even if you don’t make them, you’ll make them halfway and still be really successful.”
This busy executive and mother, who’s held key positions with Nike, Napster and Ashley Furniture Industries to name a few, manages everything life throws at her. Here are some of her top tips for creating order amid life’s chaos.
- Schedule everything: “I block off time on my calendar to get some work or presentations done days before the due date. This allows me some wiggle room on the deadlines and [requires] me to think about the project ahead of time.”
- Tame the inbox: “I organize all of my emails by the person who sent me the email. This allows me to keep my inbox uncluttered and makes old emails easily searchable. The only items in my inbox are emails that I have not read or emails that I still need to act on.”
- Be prepared: “I pack my lunch the night before, I have my daughter pick her outfit for the next day the night before, and then I leave what I can (backpacks, work laptop, etc.) by the door. This saves time and reduces my stress level in the morning.”
- Keep it clean: “When my house is clean, I tend to do my best thinking, so I try and keep it fairly clean all of the time. I am usually doing random cleaning tasks that take 10-15 minutes per night. One night I will do bathrooms. One night I may vacuum. By making cleaning tasks seem small and isolated, they never seem very daunting.”