Maximizing Productivity: Learnings from Bullet Chess

Maximizing Productivity: Learnings from Bullet Chess

Over the past 3 months, I’ve been playing Bullet Chess to relieve stress. I’ve found that Bullet Chess offers a handful of effective tools/philosophies for maximizing productivity.


Bullet Chess is an iteration of Chess where each player gets 1 minute of playing time. When it’s a player’s turn, the clock starts counting down. As soon as the player makes a move, the clock is stopped. The count-down is resumed when it’s the player’s turn again. Players win when they checkmate their opponent or their opponent runs out of time.


Deadlines are Necessary

On average, each players gets 20 moves. Given the 1 minute duration, that’s an average of 3 seconds per move.* This means that while playing bullet chess, you need to be playing bullet chess. There’s no time for procrastination or self-degradation.

Time-boxing tasks is a sure-fire way to sharpen your focus. Think about all the papers you did last minute meanwhile still managing to get an A. When time was of the essence, you worked wonders.

If you’re new to time-boxing, I recommend the Pomodoro Technique. It consists of 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5 minute break — read more about that here.

*This average is partly an oversimplification as the opening sequence moves at a rate much faster than 3 seconds per move. Nonetheless, the figure provides some good context.

Adapt Quickly

I play about 2 games a day. Over a 3 month span, that’s about 170 games. In 99% of those games, I have made at least one mistake. Sometimes I’d be ahead by a huge amount and 1 silly move would change the tide. When I maintain focus and act quickly, I usually come out the victor. The thing is, it’s very likely that my opponent will also make at least one mistake. In a game where timing is everything, whoever can respond most quickly to change will win. I just need to be faster than my opponent in responding. Always.

When you adapt quickly, you realize mistakes are simply part of the process. The goal is to get to a point where you adapt so quickly that you don’t even have time to label fuck-ups as mistakes. They’re simply moves that require a change in strategy. Imagine how effective you would be if you weren’t so hard on yourself every time you made a mistake. I hold this Albert Einstein quote close to my heart:

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has At Least One Advantage, Always

Sometimes, I throw a Knight into an odd position. Why? Because it’s fun to try new shit once in a while. Sometimes an opponent burns an extra second or two trying to arrive at my motive. Yes! I’m ahead on the clock now. Other times, I eat manure for the random play. Always though, and most importantly, I learn something new. This makes me better for future games.

The Age Old Advice Must Be Followed

You’ve heard this advice before. It goes something like this: “Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise.” Learn to make this routine a part of your life.

My morning routine:

  • Put 2 eggs on boil (I eat within 30 minutes of waking up)
  • Meditate for 10 minutes while eggs are on boil
  • Personal work for 2 hours
  • Exercise for 10-15 minutes

I get a consistent 8 hours of sleep every night.

Sometimes I break this routine and lay in bed playing bullet Chess on my iPhone. You know what comes out of that really bad habit? De-ranking. It’s like my brain is transmitting information via dial-up. All my computations are super laggy. I wouldn’t even bet on my ability to tap the right squares. This ineffective gameplay also occurs when I don’t get my preferred 8 hours.

When I follow my routine, I perform great consistently.

Author: Husam

Husam Machlovi has pitched to, and developed relationships with, top Fortune 100 companies. He's designed digital experiences that have generated millions in revenue. At his company, With Pulp, he leads Product Strategy & Design where he crafts product stories and interfaces that people love.

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