Work management strategies of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers

We asked 317 experienced Amazon Mechanical Turk workers about their task management strategies.

Participants were asked to indicate on a five-point Likert scale whether they agree or disagree with 18 statements about their task management routines and habits. Statements included: ‘I feel that I have the best strategy for managing multiple tasks’, ‘I switch in the middle of tasks to check my progress on other tasks’ and ‘If a task is difficult I tend to switch to working on an easier task instead’.

As part of the survey, we also asked crowdworkers two open-ended questions regarding their task management strategies: ’What advice would you give about effective task management to someone just starting on AMT?’ and ’Do you have any particular strategies that help you focus on your work?’.


Workers encounter different distractions during work

Many workers (N = 217) complained about getting distracted while completing tasks on AMT: “I think discipline is the key to task management. When using the internet it is very easy to become distracted with other sites. You have to force yourself to stay focused. I think developing habits helps a lot. You can also set a schedule – something like taking a 5 minute break each hour. Continually remind yourself that spending time on other things means that you’re earning less money.” – P144

Other digital distractions workers pointed to included watching videos online, listening to podcasts and watching TV. Distraction is clearly something that concerns workers.

Workers complained about getting distracted with other things on the internet while completing tasks on AMT: “The biggest distraction I have to deal with is other people and the demands they place upon me. My second biggest distraction is the web and the infinite amount of interesting information out there. I can listen to music and it helps me focus most of the time but every now and then I’ll get distracted trying to find the perfect song on YouTube and I’ll go down a rabbit hole and I’ll end up spending a few hours watching old music videos and just wasting way too much time instead of getting anything done.” – P219


Workers have different styles of working

Workers were asked to comment on their strategies for staying focused while they were working. Some workers reported preferences for multitasking: “I use noise canceling headphones. I tune out environmental noises or activities. I remain focused on what I’m doing. I do not engage in more than one activity at a time unless the HITs require me to do so. I do not eat or listen to music while I work on HITs. I tend to work when the environment is calm rather than when I know those around me will be active.” – P225

Others had far more monotasking approaches to their work: “I like to switch things up – variety is the spice of life – sometimes I listen to music, other times I don’t – I take breaks when I start to feel my focus fading, stay up-to-date with different tasks.” – P16

When asked what advice they would give about effective task management to someone just starting on AMT, workers who preferred multitasking said that they would recommend getting a second monitor: “I would tell them to absolutely get a second monitor, and set it up to have one of the forums on it, to look for HITs, also other tabs on it that you don’t need all the time, then the monitor in front of you has what you’re working on”. – P318

Not everyone can afford a second screen, though–a personal constraint. Instead of having to buy new equipment a common alternative strategy seems to be tiling windows on the screen. This strategy allows the workers to achieve the same effect without the additional monitor:“I have one monitor dedicated to Mturk. I have Chrome running on it. 75 percent of the screen is workspace where I keep AMT tabs open like the AMT page and the survey page. On 20 percent of the screen I run a separate chrome tab running HITscraper, a program that continually checks AMT for new surveys and sorts them by color/payrate/Turkopticon rating/etc. The remaining 5 percent I keep a word document open where I copy/paste important information like the survey consent page (especially contact information) as well as any information from the survey itself I am allowed to copy.” – P84“The only strategy I use is to turn off my HIT notifiers if I find a high-paying task that requires complete focus. I do not usually multitask as I find it hurts concentration, but I leave my HIT notifier on so that I do not miss other tasks. For HITs such as this one where the pay is substantially higher than the tasks I normally take, I turn off all other distractions so that I can completely focus on a single task.” – P27


Workers have to always be aware of the time spent on tasks

With relatively short times, participants have to prioritize finishing quickly over everything else: “I always make sure I look at the time on the hit. I can then decide if I will do it right that second, or be able to finish what I am doing so that I can go back to it when I am done with the task at hand.” –P18

Participant 123 adds: “To someone just starting on AMT, I recommend resisting the temptation to get carried away with doing too many tasks at once. I have had instances where multiple tasks ’timed out’ on me because I had them waiting in the queue and couldn’t get to them quickly enough. So pacing oneself is important. I also note that there are certain requesters whose hits I enjoy and therefore I get an idea of when these are posted and try to make room in my schedule for those tasks. Specific tools like Turkmaster, Hit Scraper, and Turkopticon are invaluable for managing tasks. I wish I had installed these immediately after I registered at AMT.” – P123

“The only strategy I use is to turn off my HIT notifiers if I find a high-paying task that requires complete focus. I do not usually multitask as I find it hurts concentration, but I leave my HIT notifier on so that I do not miss other tasks. For HITs such as this one where the pay is substantially higher than the tasks I normally take, I turn off all other distractions so that I can completely focus on a single task.” – P27


Crowdworkers generally receive no real training on how best to manage their tasks and time. Building a nuanced understanding of workers’ working preferences, behaviors and habits is the starting point to creating tools that support workers.



As part of the same project:

Working settings of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers

Research-based recommendations for requesters, platform designers and workers