How to use Outlook's auto reply features to free your vacation from email

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Using rules to get some work done

Nothing dissipates that post-vacation glow like a towering pile of emails. Setting rules to sort and handle emails will cut down on the dread.

Note: If you plan on using rules, be sure to set them before you head to out of town, because you can’t edit them from Outlook's web app at this time. You can, however, set regular inbox rules by getting to the Automatic Replies page and clicking the Inbox Rules tab.

Click the Rules… button to bring up the Automatic Reply Rules dialog. Rules for automatic replies are very similar to typical Outlook email sorting rules in function, but they offer fewer options and a different interface. To create a new rule, click Add Rule… and you’ll be presented with an Edit Rule dialog.

Rules are processed in order. If a message matches one rule and is acted upon, Outlook will continue to compare that message against the the next rule in the list.To prevent this, be sure to check Do not process subsequent rules in the Edit Rule dialog.

Set up your triggers

In the first text box, you’ll be able to create a rule based upon the sender(s). If, for instance, you want to handle an email from your boss a specific way, you can designate such email as a trigger.

In the second text box, enter email addresses or names that you want to act upon if they are also recipients of the message. This can include groups, which can be very helpful for special processing of department-wide messages.

outlook 2013 automatic replies edit rule
Rules for handling automatic replies and out of office setting are very similar to regular email rules in Outlook.

If you’re not sure how to spell a person’s name, you can begin typing their name and click Check Names. A dialog will appear and Outlook will list contacts similar to the name you entered.

The next two checkboxes are self-explanatory: The first one targets messages where your email appears in the ‘To’ field, while the second one targets emails that list you in the ‘Cc:’ field.

The last two text boxes search for keywords in the subject and body of the email,  respectively.

Advanced triggers

Outlook allows you to trigger rule events based on attributes of the message as well. Click Advanced… to open the Advanced dialog.

The first Advanced option, for setting the message's file size as an attribute, could help if you're trying to stay below an inbox or account limit for your email. I sent a 1,000-word, plain-text email to myself. The resulting message was a mere 23KB. Images and formatted text will increase the file size significantly, of course

outlook 2013 automatic replies advanced rule options
Advanced rule options let you handle messages based on size, attachments or date received.

The next section can set a rule for when the message is received, adding more granular control over email sorting by date. Say you were going on vacation from Aug. 20 to Sept. 10, but are expecting an email from Jill in Human Resources from Aug. 25 to Aug. 27. You can target that date range and have it forwarded to your personal email address.

The next series of checkboxes allow you to target emails with attachments, by importance or by sensitivity.

And… Actions!

Actions tell the rule what to do with the message that meets the criteria you set. While most of the options are simple, they a still quite powerful.

The Alert With action appears to be a holdover from the old rules engine. You won’t be in the office to see the alert, so this is kind of pointless.

The delete action is pretty obvious, but it's worth noting that if you have a Delete action in a rule, Outlook won’t allow you to act on the message with subsequent rules after you delete it.

The Move To and Copy To fields move or copy messages to specific folders that you choose, allowing you to pre-file your messages for when you return.

You can forward messages to another email address, in case you really, really need to act on an email while away. You can also use the Forward field to forward a specific message to a co-worker who’s handling your workload in your absence.

Finally, you can create a ‘Reply with’ action that replies to a message using a template of your choosing. This is great for creating a custom auto-reply for a specific client or co-worker.

outlook 2013 automatic reply email template
You can create rules to send personalized prewritten emails based upon receipt of certain messages.

The last option, Custom, is used with plugins and scripts, so unless your organization uses them, don’t worry too much about it.

With the right auto-replies and rules, you're out of excuses to spend any time peeking at your email when you’re supposed to be relaxing. Better still, you've reduced the fear of that first-day-back flood of emails to delete, delete, delete. Who knew a vacation could be so productive. 

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
Shop Tech Products at Amazon