Tutorial: Set up an out of office auto-reply in Outlook

Don't leave your contacts wondering whether you still care! If you take vacation, create an automatic response to all incoming email. It won't have the personal touch, but it'll keep contacts informed.

It's that time of year! Whether celebrating or just hiding, many people take vacation at the end of the year. Most likely, that means a short respite from email too! If you're going to be away from your email for more than a day or two, you might want to let people know why you're not responding to their emails—Thank you for your email, I'm on a tropical south sea island and although your email is important to me, I have to finish this sweet tropical drink before the ice melts…

Okay, maybe you don't have to rub it in, but keeping contacts informed is just good business. Before you leave, set up an auto-response in Outlook, as follows:

  1. Start a new message; enter a subject and the message. Include when you'll return and an emergency contact if applicable.
  2. Select Save As from the File menu. In Outlook 2007, click the Office button. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab.
  3. Select Outlook Template in the Save As Type dropdown list.
  4. Click Save.
  5. From the Tools menu, choose Rules and Alerts. In Outlook 2010, click the Home tab and click Rules in the Move group. Then, click Manage Rules & Alerts.
  6. Click New Rule and then click Start From a Blank Rule.
  7. Check the Check Messages When They Arrive option, and click Next.
  8. Check Where My Name Is In The To Box, and click Next. Leaving all the conditional options unchecked will allow Outlook to respond to all incoming mail.
  9. Check Reply Using A Specific Template in the Select Actions section.
  10. Click A Specific Template in the Edit the Rule Description section.
  11. Select User Templates In File System in the Look In section.
  12. Select the template you created above and click Open and then click Next.
  13. Check Except If It Is An Out Of Office Message in the Select Exception(s) section and click Next.
  14. Give the filter a name, click Finish, and then OK.

It's a lot of steps, but a little work now can save you the trouble of explaining why you didn't respond while you were away. You can download a formal out-of-office template from There's also an informal template.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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