Taking vacation time is important if you want to stay sharp and
focused. This is especially true for the small business owner, who may have
many roles to play in their business.
Unfortunately, in today’s connected world email can make it
seem like you’re always working, even when you’re trying to take a break. You
probably carry your phone or mobile device with you, even on vacation. Where
your mobile device is, there’s email. Where there’s email, there’s work.
Constantly checking your business email is no way to get a
proper rest on your vacation. There’s a better way. Set up a Gmail vacation
responder. A Gmail vacation responder sends an
out of office Gmail reply to anyone who sends you an email during the defined
Use the out of office Gmail reply to set client and colleague expectations. Use it for vacations, or any other time you will
be away from the office. Remember, getting an out of office message is far
better than getting no reply at all.
This tutorial provides step-by-step instructions
for setting up a vacation response in Gmail. It also provides you with some
vacation email best practices. Finally, I’ll touch on how you can ease your
transition back into work when your vacation is over.
How to Set Up an Auto Response Email Using Gmail
In the screencast above learn how how to quickly set up an automatic
Gmail vacation responder. Or, read on for written instructions to help you set up a
Gmail out of office message, best practice tips to follow, and more:
1. Turn the Vacation
Responder Message On
Let’s setup your vacation responder message in Gmail. Here’s how to do it step-by-step:
From within Gmail, click on the Settings symbol. You’ll find
it in the top right of the email screen.
From the dropdown menu, click the Settings option.
screen displays. Scroll to the bottom of the Settings screen to find the Vacation
The default is for the Vacation responder to be off. To
change that selection, click the Vacation
responder on toggle button.
Type the date when your vacation starts in the First day field. You can also click in
the middle of one of the date fields to bring up a calendar. From the calendar,
select the date or date(s).
Unless you don’t know when you’ll be back, I recommend
also filling out the Last day field. The Last day
field determines the last day that your Gmail vacation responder message will
be sent. To fill out the field, click the check box to activate the Last day field. Next, type the date or
use the calendar to enter the date.
Some email experts recommend adding a few extra days to your
return date. This buffer could give you an extra chance to catch up
before people try to contact you. This tactic can backfire if someone knows
your actual return date though.
So, be careful with it.
Now it’s time to create your actual out of office message.
Start by giving your message a subject line.
Remember, the subject line
is one of the most important parts of an email. Some recipients won’t
the subject line. So, you
want to convey as much information here as you can. I type “Limited
Email Access until 8/18” here because that tells the recipient what they
need to know.
Since you can’t predict who
receives your vacation responder message, you can’t address your vacation reply
to an individual or group. It’s best to just type your email body.
Next, type the body of the email. It’s always a good idea to include an
alternate contact in case there is an urgent problem that needs to be dealt
with quickly. If you have several projects, you may name a different contact
for each project. Let your backup contacts know that they may receive extra
messages while you are gone.
If you use a Gmail signature template, your Gmail signature
will be applied to your vacation responder email. For more information about signature templates take
a look at:
Finally, you’ll notice a checkbox at the bottom that
allows you to limit the auto response email to people in your contact list. I
recommend selecting this option. You
don’t want your vacation reply to go to email newsletters you’ve subscribed to
or to junk emails you receive.
Once you are satisfied with your out of office Gmail
message, Click Save Changes.
Note that Gmail only sends
the vacation responder message to a recipient once every four days. If a
recipient ignores your vacation reply and sends you more than one email in a
day, they won’t receive your Gmail out of office message over and over.
2. Test the Vacation
Once your Gmail auto response email is set up, you may wish
to have a friend help you test the feature. To test your message,
ask your friend to send you an email on the first day that you are out.
If the vacation responder is working, your friend should
receive your out of office message. If they do not receive
the vacation message, repeat the steps above until vacation responder
email is properly set up.
3. Turn the Vacation
Responder Message Off
If you did not enter a last day for your vacation responder
email to end, turn off the auto response email manually after you’re back from vacation. Return to the Settings screen and scroll to the
bottom. Click the Vacation responder off
To learn more about Gmail, review some of our other
How to Combine All Your Email Accounts Into One Gmail Account
App TrainingHow to Keep Your Gmail Inbox Clean
ProductivityAre You Using Gmail to Your Best Advantage as a Freelancer?
Vacation Responder Best Practices
Like any other email you send, your Gmail vacation responder
represents your small business. You want it to look professional and convey a
Although this tutorial
applies specifically to Gmail, you can use many of these best practices with
other email systems.
Here are some best practices to follow to make sure that
your Gmail out of office message leaves the right impression:
You may be tempted to make a snarky out of office message such as the out
of office emails listed in this HubSpot
article by Lindsey Kolowich. Unless you are very sure that this type of response will be well-received by your
clients and colleagues, don’t leave a funny vacation email. It’s too easy for
humor to backfire.
What to include. Your autoresponder message should include the following
information: the dates you’ll be gone, when you’ll be back, and what the reader
can do in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to include a rough estimate of
when they can expect a response.
Use proper email format in your auto response email. To learn more about proper
email format, review our Tuts+ tutorial, Howto Master Proper Business Email Format – and Avoid Professional Disaster. Since
you can’t predict who receives your vacation responder message, you can’t address
it to an individual or group.
If you have a signature template set up for your emails, using it here is an important
part of your branding. This is especially true if you are a small business
owner or freelancer.
Backup contact. It’s a good idea to
direct your email recipient to someone else who can answer questions. Choose
someone as a backup who is familiar with your projects like a colleague or
virtual assistant (VA). Don’t forget to ask your backup if they can handle your
calls while you are gone.
Other systems. Once you’ve completed your Gmail vacation responder, don’t forget
to note your absence in other tools such as on your Calendar or in any project
planning tools where you are listed as a resource. This step will prevent
people from scheduling you for meetings during your time away.
Resist temptation. While you’re on vacation, you may be tempted to log in to your
email remotely and answer a few messages. Don’t do it. If your contacts realize
that you are answering messages they will assume you are available. Others
won’t respect your time away from work if you don’t respect it yourself.
Once you’ve set up your auto response email, you’re ready to
enjoy your vacation. But, like all good things, your vacation must come to an
Here are some ideas to help you ease back into work.
A Handy Checklist for When the Vacation is Over
With a vacation email set up to notify your contacts that
you are unavailable, you can relax and enjoy your vacation.
Once your vacation ends, you want to be sure that you return
to work refreshed and ready to go. Unfortunately, those first few days back can
be rough unless you have a plan.
Here’s a handy checklist to help you ease back into work
after being out of the office:
Gmail out of office message off. There’s nothing more annoying than
continuing to receive a vacation email long after the person has returned. If
possible, this should be one of the first things you do when you get back to
through your messages before you respond. A
quick review of messages lets you know what to expect. It can also reduce your workload if you discover that a sender has already answered their own
your return messages and tasks. Don’t try to do it all on your first day
back. Take note of any true emergencies or obvious junk messages. After you’ve
dealt with the emergencies and deleted the junk messages, answer the other
messages in the order in which they were received.
calendar for any upcoming meetings. Schedule time to prepare for any
scheduled meetings. You may be tempted to focus on just cleaning out your inbox
when you get back to work, but this can leave you unprepared for other aspects
of your work.
panic. It may take you several days to catch up. That’s normal. If you deal
with emergency questions first, most of your clients and colleagues will understand
if they have to wait a day or two for you to get back to them.
on time. Too often we return from vacation and undo all the benefits of a
good rest by overdoing it in the first week back. No matter how backlogged your
workload seems, leave work at a reasonable hour and try not to stress about
your email inbox.
Although this tutorial is written specifically for Gmail
users, many of the points on this checklist can also be used by those who use
other email systems.
What Does Setting Up a Gmail Vacation Responder Mean for You?
With a Gmail vacation responder, you don’t have to be
“plugged in” all the time. Your business will survive your time away from work.
By setting up an auto response email properly in Gmail, you can make sure your
vacation is a true break from work and let your clients and colleagues know
what to expect while you are gone.
Keep in mind that your emails, including your Gmail out of
office message, are part of your branding. You will want to follow vacation
responder best practices so that your message is as professional as possible.
Once you return to work, there are some steps you can take
to make the transition from vacation easier. Start by turning off your Gmail
out of office message and prioritizing messages to respond to.
Do you answer email during your time out of the
office? Why, or why not?