It’s ‘Out of Office’ reply season

You’re leaving for vacation, so you dutifully set up the classic “Out of the office, will reply to your message when I get back” e-mail auto-responder.

But the auto-reply message doesn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that you’re missing something. You may find yourself checking your smartphone regularly for “important” e-mails anyway.

Before you go on vacation, set up a custom auto-reply system that will make it easier for you to relax.

1. First, consider setting a different date than your actual return. The standard auto-reply message is: “I’m out of the office and will get back to you when I return to the office on April 5. If this is an emergency, contact John Smith at”

If you use this standard message, you’re promising to get back to people on the day you return from vacation, when you’ll probably be too swamped to read and answer all your e-mail.

Difficult People D

Tip: Either announce that you will respond the following day—April 6—or schedule time to process e-mail while you’re traveling back from vacation or resettling at home. It’s not exactly “lying.” You’re simply giving people a realistic estimate of your response time.

2. The second problem: You’re rerouting emergencies to a co-worker, who may or may not know how to handle the message. People who know you well enough—and who have access to your cell phone number—may attempt to call you.

One solution to the problem is an online tool called It sets up a simple emergency contact form, where anyone can type a short message that you receive via text message.

In your auto-response, you’d write this message: “If your message is urgent, contact John Smith at ___ or contact me through this link:”

Senders are taken to a form that says something like, “Hi, I’m not checking e-mail as usual today. But if you absolutely must reach me right away, you can do so using this form. Please be as detailed as possible, and I’ll do my best to get back to you via phone or e-mail. Thanks!”

Why it works: Most e-mailers who don’t need you right away won’t go through the trouble of filling out the AwayFind form, but those who do will. You can rest easy knowing that anything urgent is being handled.

Because the sender’s message must stay within a 215-character limit, and since you can opt to simply forward it, you won’t be stuck handling something that didn’t really warrant your attention.

3. Customize your auto-reply Rule. Microsoft Outlook’s Rules feature also lets you configure smarter auto-responders that can send you a text message if the boss or a VIP e-mails you.

You can even set up a VIP list of people you want to receive a special auto-response message, versus a more general one for people not on the list.

— Adapted from “The Art of the E-Mail Auto-Responder Message (I’m Away From the Office Until …),” Gina Trapani, Fast Company.