Whether you’re on vacation, an extended leave, or away on business, you’ll want to alert contacts that you’re not available. It’s polite, but more importantly, you’re keeping contacts informed. If you’re using Outlook on Exchange or online Mail, the process is quick; you’ll work harder if you’re not on Exchange.

In this article, I’ll include instructions for creating an automatic out-of-office reply for both non-Exchange and Exchange users.

I’m using Office 365 desktop on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but both methods will work in earlier versions.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (TechRepublic download)

Non-Exchange Outlook users

If you’re not on Exchange, your automated reply has two steps. First, you must create a message template. Then, you’ll set up a rule that sends that message in reply to received messages. First, let’s create the message template as follows:

  1. Open a new mail message by clicking New Email in the New group on the Home tab.
  2. Enter the subject, say, “Out of Office.”
  3. Enter a relevant and meaningful message. If possible, tell them when they can expect a reply and offer other contacts if they can’t wait until you return. Keep in mind that this response is going to everyone who emails you–even people you don’t know so keep information to a minimum and be careful what you share. Keep the message short if possible.
  4. Click File and choose Save As.
  5. Choose Outlook Template (*.oft) from the Save as type dropdown.
  6. Change the name for the template message, if you like. Otherwise, it defaults to the subject text (Figure A).
  7. Click Save and close the message window (you don’t need to confirm the save).

After creating the template, you need a rule that sends it. You’ll create this rule as follows:

  1. On the Home tab, click Rules in the Move group and choose Manage Rules & Alerts from the dropdown.
  2. Click the Email Rules tab (the default) if necessary.
  3. Choose an account from the Apply changes to this folder dropdown (Figure B).

  1. Click New Rule.
  2. In the Start from a blank rule section (at the bottom), select Apply rule on messages I receive and click Next.
  3. Under Step 1: Select condition(s), check the condition where my name is in the To box (Figure C) and click Next. Or, check the where my name is in the To or Cc box, but that’s overkill for most of us.

  1. In the next pane, check reply using a specific template and then click the link under Step 2: Edit the rule description.
  2. From the Look in the dropdown in the resulting dialog, choose User Templates in File System, select Out of Office (Figure D), click Open, and then click Next.

Under Step 1: Select exceptions, make sure to except if an automatic reply is checked and click Next. (Figure E). Click Finish.

If you didn’t enable the rule, you can do so as follows, when you’re ready:

  1. On the Home tab, click Rules in the Move group and choose Manage Rules & Alerts from the dropdown.
  2. Click the Email Rules tab (the default) if necessary.
  3. Find the rule in the list and make sure it’s checked (Figure F) and click OK.

When you return from vacation, repeat the above steps, and uncheck the out-of-office rule.

Exchange and online Mail accounts

If you’re on Exchange or using online Mail, you won’t need the template message. To create an automatic reply on Exchange, do the following:

  1. Click File and then choose Info in the left pane. Then click Automatic Replies (Out of Office). If you’re using online Mail, click the gear (far right on title bar) and then click Automatic replies.
  2. In the resulting dialog, check Send Automatic Replies.
  3. Check Send replies only during this time period and then enter dates and times using the Start time and End time options (Figure G).
  4. You can create a different message for people inside and outside your organization. (In Exchange, you’ll click the right tab.)
  5. Click OK.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers’ questions when I can, but there’s no guarantee. Don’t send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, “Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what’s wrong” probably won’t get a response, but “Can you tell me why this formula isn’t returning the expected results?” might. Please mention the app and version that you’re using. I’m not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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