Wouldn’t you love to go on vacation knowing you don’t have to check your email? If you can’t rely on an assistant to tend to your digital communication while you’re away, an ‘out of office’ message is the next best thing.
Here are some tips on how to set up an autoresponder with Gmail and what to keep in mind.
Reduce the Load Before You Leave
Make sure to clear out your inbox and respond to open requests before you leave. Communicate that you will be away. For example, you could add the dates of your scheduled away time to your email signature for a week or two prior to your trip. That way your contacts are less likely to flood your inbox when you’re gone.
If you don’t yet have a system for managing your email, this is the time to get familiar with the Inbox Zero Flowchart. Briefly, delete emails that are not relevant, delegate tasks you cannot solve yourself, solve tasks immediately if they take less than two minutes, or put them on your To Do list if they take longer than that.
You might also want to unsubscribe from email newsletters, if you’ll be gone for an extended period.
Prepare Your Email Autoresponder
No matter how well you communicate your scheduled vacation, people will still try to get in touch with you. An autoresponder will remind them of your absence. Follow this strategy:
- Add contact information for urgent matters to your auto responder. This could be the email address of a trusted colleague or a phone number under which you can be reached in an emergency.
- Set up the autoresponder only for people in your contact list. This prevents random people to get hold of your emergency number or other contact details.
- Set up forwards for important emails. If you are expecting to hear from someone specific or on a particular topic, make sure those important emails are routed to a colleague who can respond immediately.
Set Up the Gmail Vacation Responder
You can find Gmail’s Vacation Responder under general settings. Click the cogwheel in the top right of your inbox and scroll to the bottom of the General tab. Choose the dates, compose your message in WYSIWYG (formatted / rich text) or Plain Text, and turn the vacation responder on. To prevent strangers or spammers from getting hold of additional contact information or learn that your email account is active, select to only send a response to people in your Contacts. Gmail allows you set a first and an optional last day, meaning you won’t have to remember to turn the autoresponder off when you get back.
Forward Selected Emails Using Gmail Filters
The vacation responder is a standard message that — while active — is sent to anyone (on your contact list) who sends you an email. As mentioned above, some emails might require an immediate and personal response. This is where Gmail’s filters come in.
Note that in Gmail you can only forward emails to confirmed email addresses. If you want to forward emails to a colleague, you’ll need their help. Click the cogwheel in the top right of your Gmail inbox, select Settings, and switch to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Click the Add a forwarding address button, enter the forwarding email address and click Next to trigger the confirmation email. Your colleague will receive a code and instructions on how to confirm the request. If they forward you the email, you can also enter the confirmation code yourself to verify their email address.
To set up your filter, expand the search options above your Gmail inbox. Enter the sender’s email address in the from field or keywords in the subject or has the words field. You can add several email addresses and use search operators to connect multiple keywords.
Click create filter with this search in the bottom right and in the next window choose your action. In the example shown below, I selected a forwarding email address and applied a label to the forwarded email. If you do the same, you can quickly identify forwarded emails based on their label once you return from your vacation.
Instead of forwarding emails, you can also set up a custom canned response for specific senders or topics. Yaara previously explained how exactly that works.
Final Preparations Before You Leave
It would be quite disappointing if your carefully set up system failed. Imagine the stress upon your return. It’s essential that you test your out of office messages and forwards before you leave. You can use your own secondary email address and dummy filters to test autoresponders, filters, and forwards.
What would be equally embarrassing is if your vacation responder remained active long after you’ve returned home. If you have a To Do list or a calendar, create a task or schedule to turn the autoresponder and/or filters off upon your return.
Here’s a little recap of the entire procedure from Steve Dotto:
What to Do When You Return
Hopefully, your system worked and all urgent emails have been dealt with by your friendly colleague. When you’re ready to tackle your inbox, follow these steps:
- Turn off the vacation responder.
- Disable vacation-specific filters & forwards.
- Go through your inbox using the Inbox Zero strategy outlined above.
- Check your Sent folder or a label you used to see which emails were forwarded or received a canned response.
- Get in touch with colleagues who handled urgent emails and ask them to bring you up to speed.
- Follow up where necessary.
- Re-subscribe to newsletters if needed.
Can This Be Done in Other Email Clients?
Are you using another email client or do you have more tips for handling email auto responders? Please speak up and share your questions or insights in the comments!
Image Credit: Inbox Zero by hyperdashery via Flickr