Always Wanted Your Own Robot? Live the Dream with Outlook 2010

Like the rest of Microsoft Office 365, Outlook 2010 is packed with useful, time saving features and one of these features is Automatic Replies. Most kids growing up in the UK wanted to have K9, that robot dog from the Doctor Who series, as their very own, or perhaps Robocop. The dream would only differ according to the nature of the child. Today, these genuinely sentient ideals remain a distant dream...but Outlook 2010 has an assistant that can handle your email while you are away on your tropical holiday.

Note: Holiday is optional: Out of Office works equally well when you're at a meeting or training course, or writing that important report.

Your system has to be set up on Microsoft Office Exchange for you to be able to use the Out of Office Assistant in the guide below. If you don't see some of the buttons or dialog boxes as you work through the guide, then you may need to speak to your System Administrator or IT Department to find out how you are connected and set up on Microsoft Office Exchange.

To set up Out of Office Assistant, click the File tab on the Ribbon at the top of your Outlook 2010 Email Window. Next, click on Info at the left of the File Screen, then Automatic Replies (Out of Office).

A dialog box will appear offering two options: Do Not Send Automatic Replies or Send Automatic Replies. Clicking the box next to Send Automatic Replies allows you to check the box below it entitled Only Send During This Time Range. Choose the start and end dates and times window you'd like Outlook to send an automatic reply for you. This is useful in preventing the common error of forgetting to turn Automatic Reply off on return from holiday.

Below that are two tabs that allow you to send different messages to your colleagues and people from outside your organisation, like clients or suppliers. Click the Inside My Organization tab to write an automatic reply to emails from people whose email addresses have the same @ ending as your email address. (Our email address is name@lanix.co.uk, so anyone whose email address ends @lanix.co.uk will receive the reply set for people within our organisation.) Click the Outside My Organization tab, then click the check box Auto-Reply to People Outside My Organization to set a reply for people emailing you from external addresses. You can further choose between sending automatic replies to My Contacts Only and Anyone Outside My Organization. If Automatic Reply is off for those outside the organisation, you will see the word (Off) in brackets beside the Outside My Organization tab heading.

Type the message/s you want to display in the main body of one or both text boxes, depending on who you want to send automatic replies to. A typical Out of Office message could contain information about when you will be able to respond to incoming email, who is dealing with your work in your absence, and/or who to contact regarding urgent matters. You can also include relevant contact details to make their lives easier. Your message can be edited using the drop-down menus and buttons above the text box. Once you're happy with your message/s, click OK.

It is also possible to customise how Outlook deals with messages from certain email addresses using Rules. Before clicking OK to finish setting up your automatic replies at stage six above, click Rules. This will open the dialog box, Automatic Reply Rules. Some rules may appear if they have been used previously. Either select one or click Add Rule.

A new dialog box will appear allowing you to set a special message in response to a message from a particular person, or forward certain messages for a colleague to deal with, among other things. Begin by choosing who the rule should apply to, by either clicking From, then choosing from your list of contacts, or typing in an email address. If you use more than one email address in Outlook, you can also click Sent To, to choose unique responses to messages sent to your different email addresses.

You can choose whether to apply the response you're about to create, only to emails sent to you directly or copied to you, using the check boxes below Sent To. Next, choose which actions to carry out using check boxes. The most commonly used of these is Forward, which will forward certain emails to another email address to be dealt with (your personal email, or a colleague's email address, for instance).

Moving down the dialog box, you have the option to reply using a template email message (Reply With) or a Custom one. Clicking Check Names will raise an error message if any of the names you inserted in the From field are not associated with an email address in a valid format. Click OK to finish working with Rules. This will return you to the Automatic Reply Rules dialog box. Click OK to save your settings. This will take you back to the Automatic Replies dialog box, again click OK to save the settings you created.

If, instead of choosing OK, you click Advanced, a new dialog box will appear. This will allow you to choose further factors for filtering your incoming emails so they can be dealt with differently in your absence. For example, you can use Size to deal with shorter and longer emails differently. Received lets you set a time period during which emails are to be dealt with differently. Checkboxes allow you to separate emails that have attachments (Only Items With Attachments), or according to their levels of Importance or Sensitivity.

An invaluable part of Microsoft Office 365 in Outlook 2010, Automatic Replies is much more comprehensive and customisable than its predecessor, Out of Office Assistant. Automatic Replies allows you to continue working without even being in the office. Outlook can easily filter your incoming emails based on who they are from, or which of your email addresses they were sent to. Depending on the rules you set up, Outlook will then either send a personalised reply automatically, forward it to you at another email address, or forward it to someone else who can deal with it in your absence. Okay, so it doesn't have cute deeley boppers for ears, but we hope you'll agree Automatic Replies is probably much more useful in daily life than K9 the robot dog. We still want one, though!

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