How to Use Outlook's Auto Reply Features to Free Your Vacation From Email

Take back your vacation with the help of Outlook's Automatic Replies

Wanna get away ...from your email? Outlook 2013's Automatic Replies feature lets you reply to and sort messages while you're out of the office. Here's how you can use it to relax on your next vacation and come back to a nice, tidy inbox.

Nothing can put a damper on your vacation like worrying about your email. While Gmail’s auto-responder is pretty easy to set, but most people use Outlook at work.

[ 9 Tips for CIOs as Summer Vacations Hit ]

I’m going to show you how to use Outlook’s Automatic Replies feature to do some of the heavy lifting while you’re away so you can take back your vacation. And avoid getting the stink-eye from friends and family while you’re at it.

You’ll even be able to set it days before you leave, so you won’t be scrambling around on your last day in the office.

Setting up Automatic Replies

To get started with Outlook’s built-in autoresponder, you’ll have to set some basic options first. These settings are available in both Outlook 2013 and the Outlook 365 web app (which is handy in case you forget to set your replies before you leave).

In Outlook 2013, click File > Automatic Replies. A dialog will open, with the option ‘Do not send automatic replies’ selected. With the exception of editing Rules, every other option will be disabled. Select Send automatic replies to begin setting your options.

outlook 2013 automatic replies
The Automatic Replies dialog lets you set your away message and the length of time you will be away from the office. You can set up your replies before you leave by using the date range controls.

You can get to the same option in the Outlook 365 web app. First, click Outlook on the menu bar at the top of the page. Click the gear icon in the upper-right of the page to bring down the Settings menu, and click Set automatic replies.

outlook web automatic replies menu
The fastest way to get to the Automatic Replies interface on the web app is through the Settings menu by clicking the gear icon.

The first option immediately below tells Outlook whether you want to turn on automatic replies indefinitely or for a certain time range. Check Only send during this time range and using the date and time fields, enter the time range you will be gone on vacation. If you leave the checkbox empty, automatic replies will continue to be be sent until you turn them off.

Below the two date fields you will see two tabs in Outlook 2013: ‘Inside My Organization’ and ‘Outside My Organization.’ In the web app, both of the tabs are displayed on one page.

outlook web automatic replies
The Automatic Replies interface on the Outlook Web application is similar to the Windows application, but lacks the ability to set rules.

In the first tab, you’ll be able to craft an automatic response for everyone in your organization. That’s pretty vague, but Microsoft says that someone is considered “in your organization” if they have an Exchange Server account on your company’s email system.

There are several formatting options available, so you can use the same format as your typical emails (or use funky fonts and colors to rub your vacation in your coworkers’ faces).

Click the Outside My Organization tab to configure how emails from clients, contractors, or other people besides your co-workers are handled. There are two options in this tab that aren’t available in the first one.

outlook 2013 automatic replies outside of organization
Replies to people outside of your work can be customized. Make sure only people you know find you that you’re away from home by selecting My contacts only.

The first option is a checkbox for turning automatic replies on or off.

The second option is a pair of radio buttons for choosing how to treat recipients of your automatic replies. If you want to reply only to people in your address book, select My Contacts only. To reply to anyone who may send you an email, select Anyone outside my organization.

Note: If you select ‘Anyone outside my organization,’ you are telling Outlook to auto-respond to possibly unsolicited email. This can pose a potential security risk, alerting potentially nefarious individuals that you won’t be home for a while. Use your best judgement.

When you’re done, click Apply in Outlook 2013, or Save in the web app.

Next, I'm going to show you how to use rules to handle specific messages in Outlook 2013.

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