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How to Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook

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Sure, you could take your email with you. But a few hours, days or weeks without incoming messages are a great thing to enjoy once in a while. Outlook can reply to new emails in the meantime.

Granted, Outlook does not reply to the emails' contents in the articulate manner recipients have come to expect from you, but it will reply with a message hand-crafted by you, and it will let all senders know you are currently not able to respond individually. Ideally, the message will also say when you expect to be back and kicking emails.

Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook for Any Account

To set up an autoresponder in Outlook, let's first create the message used for the reply:

  • In Outlook 2003:
  • Start a new message.
  • Type the Subject and message of your auto-reply.
    • Try to include when people mailing you in your absence can expect a personal answer. This might be some time after you will have returned.
    • Optionally, you can add Cc: and Bcc: recipients to send a copy of each automatic reply.
    • If you set up the auto-reply to go to all mail (instead of only to select contacts), keep in mind that revealing too much can pose a risk.
  • In Outlook 2010:
    • Open the File tab.
    • Choose Save As.
  • In Outlook 2007:
    • Click the Office button.
    • Select Save As.
  • In Outlook 2003:
    • Select File | Save As... from the menu.
  • Make sure Outlook Template is selected under Save as type:.
  • Optionally, choose a File name: different from the subject.
  • Click Save.

Now we can create the autoresponder rule:

  • In Outlook 2010:
    • Go to the Home tab.
    • Click Rules.
    • Select Manage Rules & Alerts... from the menu that comes up.
  • In Outlook 2003:
    • Select Tools | Rules and Alerts... from the menu in the main Outlook window.
  • Click New Rule....
  • In Outlook 2010:
    • Make sure Apply rule on messages I receive is selected under Start from a blank rule.
  • In Outlook 2003:
    • Click Start from a blank rule.
    • Make sure Check messages when they arrive is selected.
  • Click Next >.
  • Check Where my name is in the To box under Select condition(s).
    • Alternatively, you can leave all boxes unchecked to make the auto-responder reply to all incoming mail.
  • Click Next >.
  • Check reply using a specific template under Select action(s).
  • Click on a specific template under Edit the rule description.
  • Select User Templates in File System under Look In:.
  • Highlight the template created before.
  • Click Open.
  • Click Next >.
  • Check Except if it is an Out of Office message under Select exception(s).
  • Click Next >.
  • Type the desired name for your auto-responding filter under Specify a name for this rule.
  • Optionally, check Create this rule on all accounts.
    • Keep in mind, though, that filters do not work with Hotmail and other HTTP accounts (for which this checkbox will not create them).
  • Click Finish.
  • Click OK.

Instead of going the manual filter route, you can use a tool like FreeBusy, which also avoids sending a number of unneeded responses.

Keep in mind that Outlook will only email each address once per session (until it is restarted). You cannot automatically reply to a sender with two different messages, for example.

Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook for an Exchange Account

If you use Outlook with an Exchange server, you can set up an out of office auto-reply on the server:

  • Click File in the main Outlook window.
  • Open the Info category.
  • Click Automatic Replies.
  • Make sure Send automatic replies< is selected.
  • To have the auto-responder start and stop automatically:
    • Make sure Only send during this time range: is checked.
    • Select the desired date and time for starting the auto-responder under Start time:.
    • Pick the desired ending date and time under End time:.
  • Enter the message of your out-of-office auto-reply under Inside My Organization.
    • This email will be sent to people at your company.
  • To send automatic responses to people outside your company as well:
    • Open the Outside My Organization tab.
    • Make sure Auto-reply to people outside my organization is checked if you're okay with the security risks involved.
    • Enter the message sent to people outside your company.
  • Click OK.

To set up an Exchange account auto-responder in Outlook 2007:

  • Select Tools | Out of Office Assistant from the menu.
  • Make sure I am currently Out of the Office is selected.
  • Type a short message under AutoReply only once to each sender with the following text:.
  • Click OK.

(Updated July 2012)

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