When you know you are going to be out of the office for a few days, you can set up the Out of Office Assistant to reply automatically, letting people know that you are enjoying your vacation while they are stuck at work.

RELATED: How to Better Manage Email in Outlook with Quick Steps and Rules

To create an out of office reply in Outlook, we will create an email template with the message we want to use and then create a rule that will send out a reply with that message to all emails we receive during a specific date range.

NOTE: Outlook must be open for the rule to run and your out of office reply to be sent. So, make sure you leave your computer on and Outlook running while you’re out of the office.

Step One: Create a Message Template

To create a message template in Outlook, make sure the “Home” tab is active and click the “New Email” button in the New section.

Enter the message you want sent as an automatic reply in the message box. Do not enter a To email address or a Subject. Then, click the “File” tab.

Click “Save As” in the list of options on the left side of the backstage screen.

On the Save As dialog box, select “Outlook Template (*.oft)” from the “Save as type” dropdown.

You are taken to the user templates folder. Enter a name for the template in the “File name” box, keeping the “.oft” extension, and click “Save”.

If you want to copy your out of office reply email template to another PC or back it up, the full path to the user templates folder is C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates . Replace <username> with your Windows user name.

Close the message window by clicking the “X” button in the upper-right corner.

A dialog box displays asking if you want to save a draft of the message. You don’t have to because you saved it as a template, but you can if you want to. Click “Yes” if you want to save the draft, or “No” if you don’t.

Step Two: Create a Rule to Automatically Reply to New Email Messages

Now, that we have our out of office reply email template, we will create a rule to use that template to reply to all messages that come in during a specific date range. Make sure the “Home” tab is active.

In the Move section, click the “Rules” button and select “Manage Rules & Alerts” from the dropdown.

You can also click the “File” tab to access the backstage screen. Make sure the “Info” screen is active (click “Info” on the left if necessary) and then click the “Manage Rules & Alerts” button.

On the Rules and Alerts dialog box, make sure the email address to which you want to apply this rule is selected in the “Apply changes to this folder” dropdown. If you want this rule to apply to all your accounts in Outlook, we’ll show you how to do that later in this article. Click the “Email Rules” tab if it’s not already active, and then click the “New Rule” button.

On the first screen of the Rules Wizard dialog box, click on “Apply rule on messages I receive” in the “Start from a blank rule” section. The option is added to the “Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value)” box. There is nothing to edit for this part of the rule, so click the “Next” button to continue.

The second screen on the Rules Wizard dialog box allows you to select the conditions to check when you receive emails. To have your out of office reply sent out during a specific date range, check the “received in a specific date span” box in the “Step 1: Select conditions” box. The condition is added to the “Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value)” box, like before, but this time, there is part of the description to edit. To add a date range, click the “in a specific date range” link in the Step 2 box.

On the Date Received dialog box, check the “After” box, click on the dropdown, and click on the date after which you want to have the automatic out of office reply sent. For example, if you want your out of office reply to start being sent on February 8, select February 7 for the After date.

Then, check the “Before” box, select a date from the date dropdown to the right of the Before check box. The date you select should be the day after you want the out of office reply to stop being sent. For example, if you want February 15 to be the last day that your out of office reply is sent, select February 16 as the Before date.

The dates you selected are added to the condition in the Step 2 box. Click the “Next” button on the Rules Wizard dialog box to continue.

On the third screen on the Rules Wizard dialog box, you choose what you want to do with incoming emails during the date range. We want to reply to all emails using the template we created in the first section, so we check the “reply using a specific template” box in the “Step 1: Select action(s)” box. To select the template we created, click the “a specific template” link in the “Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value)” box.

On the Select a Reply Template dialog box, select “User Templates in File System” from the “Look in” dropdown.

Select the template you created (in our case, the “Out of Office Reply” template) and click the “Open” button.

The full path to the selected template is added to the selected action. Click the “Next” button to continue.

On the fourth Rules Wizard screen, you can select any exceptions you want to apply to the rule, such as if you want to exclude certain people or groups (“except if from people or public group”). We’re not going to add any exceptions to our rule, so click the “Next” button to continue.

Enter a name for the rule in the “Step 1: Specify a name for this rule” box. The “Turn on this rule” box is checked by default, so the rule will automatically be turned on. Don’t worry, though. It won’t run until after the After date you specified.

We don’t want to run the rule on messages already in our inbox, so leave the “Run this rule now on messages already in Inbox” box unchecked. If you want to run this rule on all your email accounts in Outlook, check the “Create this rule on all accounts” box. Click the “Finish” button.

The rule is added to the list. Click “OK” to close the Rules and Alerts dialog box.

Now, when someone sends you an email during the date you specified, they will automatically receive the message in the email template you created.

Even though the sender receives an automatic reply saying you’re out of the office, you still get their email with an icon indicating an automatic reply has been sent. However, you can feel justified in ignoring it until you get back.

Once the date range on the rule has passed, the rule won’t apply to incoming emails. However, you can still turn off the rule. To do so, open the Rules and Alerts dialog box again as described earlier and uncheck the box to the left of the rule in the list. Click “OK” to close the dialog box.

When you use this rule to send an automated out of office reply, the reply is sent once to each sender during a single Outlook session. A session is when you open Outlook until you exit the application. This prevents duplicate replies from being sent to the same sender who sends you multiple messages. Outlook tracks who has received an automated response during each session but this list is reset when you exit Outlook. So, leave Outlook open (don’t exit and reopen) so the rule will run and the automatic out of office reply is sent to everyone who emails you and so the senders don’t receive multiple out of office replies.

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Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She's been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business.
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