Sometimes, it feels as though achieving the exalted work-life balance is more about the stars aligning in your favor than something you can actually control. Some weeks come together easily, while others leave you scrambling to do things like eat and sleep. It’s becoming clear that many factors influence our work-life balance, and one that can play a major role is the city you call home.
Things like cost of housing, commute time, and income level — relative to hours worked — all impact your work-life balance. Not surprisingly, these factors can vary tremendously from one city to another, and some cities with glamorous reputations — such as New York and Los Angeles —actually score quite low in these rankings.
Of course, you may not be in a position to drop everything and move immediately. But if your city is a negative influence on your work-life balance, it helps to keep alternative locations in mind for when life does present you with the opportunity to make a change.
The next time you’re pondering where to put down roots, be sure to weigh the following factors carefully; they can have a profound impact on your work-life balance.
1. A sanity-saving commute
It’s not surprising that spending an excessive amount of time stuck in traffic or hours riding the subway can quickly derail your efforts to establish a healthy work-life balance. In big cities such as New York and Chicago, average one-way commute times are 40 minutes and 34 minutes, respectively. Over the course of the week, this time rapidly adds up and makes it harder to find time for the things you want to do outside of work. In addition, new studies are illustrating that a lengthy commute has harmful consequences in terms of health and productivity.
Just because a city is large doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to get around. St. Louis, for instance, is consistently below the national average, with a 24-minute commute. A shorter commute provides tangible benefits every single day, including more time to spend with family and friends.
2. A cost of living non-billionaires can afford
A high cost of living is an obvious obstacle standing in the way of your ideal work-life balance because it requires you to work more to pay for the basic necessities than you would have to in a city with a lower cost of living. For instance, cities such as Washington and San Francisco are much harder on the wallet, so you may find yourself working longer hours to make up for high costs — or enduring a cringe-worthy standard of living.
Meanwhile, a city like Raleigh, North Carolina, offers a wealth of tech jobs without the cost inflation you’ll find in Silicon Valley. A Magnify Money study of the 50 largest metropolitan areas found that Raleigh ranks 18th for cost of goods relative to the national average and 18th for income relative to hours worked. Thanks to its other attractive traits, Raleigh took the fourth spot on a list of cities with the most balanced lifestyles.
3. Recreation options that get you moving
Having fun outside of work is paramount to maintaining work-life balance, and some cities meet this need better than others. While watching a movie or reading a book are great activities for winding down and can be done anywhere, try to find a home that offers at least a few forms of recreation that encourage physical activity.
Even large cities can still provide excellent access to the outdoors, and cities such as Seattle and Portland, Oregon, rank among the highest in this category. Getting outside regularly comes with a host of health benefits, and many cities recognize the importance of outdoor activity by prioritizing the creation of parks and greenways.
The next time you’re considering a change of scenery, don’t forget the effect your home can have on your work-life balance. Living in a major city comes with many attractive amenities, but be aware that some cities contribute to a more balanced lifestyle than others.