With smartphones, email and social media, self-employment seems easier than ever. But is it?

All kinds of benefits come with working from home or telecommuting, such as a more flexible schedule, reduced commutes and increased family time.

Lisa Ng has been working from home ever since graduating from university, first running a DJ business, and now as editor-in-chief of the popular Toronto blog The Hip and Urban Girl’s Guide. Her husband also works from home, after leaving a job with a daily one-hour commute each way.

“That was two hours a day of his life he’ll never get back,” says Ng. “He is much happier now.”

While it does have its benefits, self-employment can also be quite tough. You must be disciplined about everything from getting your work done to eating properly to staying tidy.

Carrie Anne Badov, partner and editor-in-chief at EverythingMom Media Inc. has been working from home for almost seven years. She says one of her biggest struggles is keeping home and work separate.

“The benefits of working from home can also be the drawbacks,” says Badov, adding that while she can walk her kids to school and run other errands as needed, she also has to make up that lost time. “I can work around my family’s schedule, but it usually means really late nights, too.”

According to a study released by Statistics Canada, in 2008 almost two million employees worked from home, along with another two million self-employed workers. Are you one of them? Here are a few tips to make working from home work for you:

Set realistic goals

Badov says that some people create wish lists instead of to-do lists. She emphasizes that realistic plans are more achievable. Ng takes it one step further, suggesting you write a to-do list the night before each work day to maximize productivity.

“When you wake up, your first instinct is to turn on your laptop and just start banging away,” says Ng, adding that creating the plan the night before helps you stay on track.

Use social media wisely

Badov notes that social media are great tools for finding inspiration. But Ng cautions that the Internet can be a bit of a “black hole” that steals you away from important tasks.

“Social media is a great tool for connecting, like a virtual water cooler,” says Badov. “But just like the water cooler, you have to monitor your time there or else your whole day will be wasted.”

Create a schedule and stick to it

“It’s easy to spend your whole morning going through all your emails,” says Badov. “Schedule your day with designated time-slots for getting things done. This tip is the hardest for me to stick to, but on the days that I do, it really does make a difference.”

Ng warns that this doesn’t mean you have to try and fit into a nine-to-five mould.

“Your life as an entrepreneur is going to be different,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to set your own hours, as long as you’re working efficiently.”

Be smart about money

Managing your business budget on top of your personal spending can be another challenge. If you freelance or take short contracts, your income can sometimes be unpredictable, so you need to plan accordingly.

“I have an RRSP account and I commit to putting a certain amount away each month no matter what,” says Ng, who also uses online sites such as Shoeboxed to organize her receipts and FreshBooks to do invoicing. “These tools can make life so much easier.”