Software

Make Outlook's Out of Office Assistant part of your vacation plans

Let Paul Suiter show you how to create a set of rules so powerful it may convince your coworkers that you're sitting at your desk when you're vacationing at the beach.

Summertime is here, and most of us will be leaving our desks and PCs for the outdoors. For some, it is a routine to make that special message for your voice mail telling callers you are on vacation. But what about those who choose to e-mail you? By using Microsoft Outlook’s Out of Office Assistant, you can have your e-mail send the same message to the unfortunates who remain at their posts.

Checking Exchange add-ins
Outlook must be coupled with Microsoft Exchange Server in order for the Out of Office Assistant to function. Outlook must also have its Exchange Extensions properties pages add-in installed on the client side. If you are strictly using an Internet connection with your Microsoft Outlook, this assistant will not be available to you. If you are using Exchange Server and need to check your currently installed add-ins, go to the Tools menu and select Options. Next, select the Other tab and click the Advanced Options button. Then, click the Add-in Manager button. You’ll see a list of the add-ins, with checkmarks appearing next to the ones currently installed.

Setting up the Out of Office Assistant
The Out of Office Assistant is similar to the Rules Wizard in that you are applying a set of conditions and rules to incoming messages. The rules can be as simple as providing a standard reply. Or you can create more elaborate rules that delete, forward, or move the incoming messages you receive while you are away.

To start the process of setting up your assistant, choose Out Of Office Assistant from the Tools menu. In the resulting dialog box, you’ll see two options at the very top that let you turn the assistant on or off. If this is your first time using the Out of Office Assistant, the default will be Off. This setting will not automatically move to the On position when you’ve finished with the dialog box. You can continue to create any of the replies or rules without having the assistant on. This allows you to make all the preparations ahead of time and then enable the assistant when you actually leave.

The next field is for your reply message. This message will be sent to each sender once, no matter who the sender is. This includes any automated e-mails you’ve signed up for. To create a set of replies for specified persons who may be sending you e-mail, you’ll have to click the Add Rule button. Let’s take a look.

Creating and adding conditions and rules
After clicking the assistant’s Add Rule button, you’ll see the Edit Rule dialog box. Here, you’ll set the conditions for arriving e-mail to which you want to apply rules. You can choose to base the rules on any of these factors:
  • ·        The sender of the message
  • ·        Whom the message is for
  • ·        The contents of the subject field
  • ·        The contents of the message body
  • ·        A combination of these factors

In addition, two check boxes are available that apply to messages that are sent to only you or that you were copied on. Remember: You can make a rule for each person that you receive e-mail from. Or you can have one rule cover any e-mail that you will receive through the conditions you specify.

All the rules you create will be listed in the Out Of Office Assistant dialog box. If you ever want to edit a rule at a later time, select the rule and click the Edit Rule button. The Edit Rule dialog box opens, with the selections of that rule already chosen.

When choosing a name in the From or Sent To areas, you can have Outlook try and link the addresses to any of the address books or contact lists you’re using by clicking the Check Names button. If Outlook finds a match, it will underline the name to let you know it has established a link. If you are unsure of the last name, you can type just the first name and click the Check Names button to search for all names that match the one you typed. If Outlook finds multiple matches, it will display a list of matches and let you choose the correct address. If Outlook finds no matches, it will prompt you to create a new listing with the name.

Refining rules
If you need to refine your selection of incoming messages even further, you can click the Advanced button and open a dialog box that allows you to specify:
  • ·        A particular size of message for the conditions
  • ·        A particular date or date range
  • ·        The importance and sensitivity levels
  • ·        Whether you want to include only unread messages, messages with attachments, or only the messages that do not match the chosen conditions

The Advanced dialog box also lets you display the properties of selected forms, documents, and folders. If you want, you can use the settings in the Advanced dialog box without choosing any conditions in the Edit Rule dialog box.

Now that you have selected the proper conditions for the rule you want to create, you will now need to choose what you want done with the message.

Applying actions to Out of Office rules
In the lower section of the Edit Rule dialog box, you can choose the action to be applied to the items that remain after filtering your messages through the conditions you created in the upper section. You can select one of the seven options under Actions or a combination of the group.

The first option, Alert With, will notify you when you receive an item that has met the criteria you set. You can choose whether the alert is in the form of a sound, a message, or both by clicking the Action button.

Choose the next option if you want Outlook to move an item to the Deleted Items folder. If you choose any of the seven functions other than Delete, the Delete option will not be available.

The next two functions have similar attributes. You can have an item moved or copied to another folder. In both cases, you’ll probably need to click the Folder button and select the proper folder for the item to be moved or copied into.

You can also have an item forwarded to another e-mail address or addresses. When using this option, you’ll select the e-mail addresses with the To button. This works on non-private messages only.

The Reply option allows you to reply to a sender with a specific template. Clicking the Template button opens a blank message form for you to use to create the reply you want to send. You can include attachments and add any other recipients to the message. Select File | Save And Close once you’ve created the message.

Choose the last option, Custom, if you have any additional features that were not included in the traditional Outlook install. Use the drop-down list to choose the feature you want.

Conclusion
Using Outlook’s Out of Office Assistant can ease some of the distraction from your vacation caused by thinking about work. When preparing for your vacation, make sure you set up your Out of Office Assistant. You can even set it up in advance and have it ready to put into action. Your e-mail will be covered as if you were there. Just don’t forget to turn it on before heading to the beach.

Paul Suiter received his first taste of the deadline rush as a photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser, where he earned four photography awards. After receiving degrees in economics and business management from Auburn University, Paul entered the college book business. After managing two bookstores for three years, Paul became a business analyst for EDS. Four years later, Paul continues with EDS, taking its equipment apart, while working with G3 switches and advanced imaging programs. But he’s finally getting back to one of his favorite pastimes—writing. (Of course, he also enjoys spending time with his wife and son.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.
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