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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 Microsoft.com. There's also an informal template.

About

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.

8 comments
bmcneil
bmcneil

you could also do the following: with outlook open, click on tools, out of office assistance, set up a rule within the out of office click on rules, click on reply with template, save the template, every e-mail will get the response in the template and the out of office will control the start and end time.

neilb
neilb

If you get a mail from an external source and that mail's replyto address has an automated response that similarly replies to all mails and sends an acknowledgement back... Exchange does have inbuilt features to detect the loop and stop it but this depends on the formatting of the local and responder messages. Cleaning several thousand emails out of some of my organisation's automated mailboxes can be quite an annoying task.

cruffin
cruffin

Why would you go through these steps when you can just use the built-in Auto Reply (Out of Office)? I'm on 2010, but this has been available for many versions of Outlook (at least back to 2003). You can set up two different replies - one for internal e-mails and one for external. Normally the reply is only sent after the first e-mail from someone is received. By setting up the rules above, you can send the reply each time an e-mail is received regardless of how many times a person sends you an e-mail. I think one reply giving details of the out-of-office and duration is enough.

ssharkins
ssharkins

If you're a member of any listservs, you should temporarily stop mail. Otherwise, all the members of the listserve will get the auto-generated "out-of-office" message every time someone sends a message to the list.

ssharkins
ssharkins

That's an Exchange feature. A lot of people use Outlook without Exchange feature.

neilb
neilb

gets you marked down as, at best, "sloppy". :D

ssharkins
ssharkins

I see it all the time. I'm on several lists and it is very annoying. I do understand that people just don't think about it, or they forget, so it's just one of those things we have to live with. :)

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