How to Auto Reply in Gmail (+ 10 Tricks)

If you are someone who likes to communicate with clients, friends, co-workers, and family via email instead of text or phone calls, you may pride yourself on answering your emails quickly. Those with whom you are communicating come to rely on your prompt responses.

So on the rare occasions when you take several minutes to get back to them, they may begin sending you a few extra messages, wondering if you received the first message. Eventually this becomes an avalanche of emails, leaving you overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Gmail has the ability to help you manage these issues. The Gmail auto reply feature is a handy tool, as it sends an immediate reply to those who’ve sent you a message, altering them that you’ve received the message, but that you cannot respond until later.

We will show you how to set up Gmail auto reply (also called Vacation Responder) for your Gmail account before diving into a series of tips and tricks that can help you use this tool as effectively as possible, depending on the situation you’re facing.

Step 1: Find Vacation Responder

From your Gmail account window, click on Settings, which is the gear icon in the upper right corner of the window. The list of settings will appear on the right side of the window. (If you see Quick Settings at the top of the list, you may need to click See All Settings first before clicking the General tab along the top of the Settings window.) From the General tab, scroll down until you see the Vacation Responder section.

Click the radio button next to Vacation Responder On.

Step 2: Set Up a Gmail Auto Reply Message

Now let’s set up a message that the automatic response will send for you whenever you receive emails while you’re out of the office. You can adjust this message to make it specific to whatever situation you’re facing, or you can create a generic response that will apply to any situation you have.

Within the Vacation Responder section, you’ll see a number of boxes. You’ll use these boxes to set up how the automatic reply works, what it says, and when it will be active. We’ll discuss how to set up each box. (The Gmail auto reply feature will not start sending messages until you click the Save Changes button, so you can take your time entering this information.)

  • First Day: Enter the date you would like to start generating automatic replies in this First Day box. If you will be out of the office for a few hours today, for example, you can enter today’s date in this box.
  • Last Day: If you want to place an ending date for generating automatic replies with your out of office or vacation response, click to activate the checkbox next to Last Day. Then enter the date in the box. You do not have to specify an ending date for this feature. If you leave this box blank, the automatic responses will continue until you turn off Vacation Responder.
  • Subject: Enter the subject you’d like all of your automatic responses to use. Subject lines like “I received your message” or “I am out of the office” will work nicely.
  • Message: In the Message box, enter the email message you want to use with your automatic reply. You can explain why you are out of the office, or you can give the recipient a date when you expect you will be able to reply to the email.

Step 3: Complete the Final Steps

As a final option, you can choose to only send your automatic response to people who are in your Contacts list. This may be a helpful option if you’d rather not let just any random person who sends you a message know that you are on vacation or not in your office.

If you activate the checkbox for Only Send a Response to People in My Contacts, those who are not in your contacts list will not receive any kind of message when you’ve activated your Vacation Responder feature.

Once everything looks how you want it to look, click the Save Changes button. If you selected today in the First Day box, the Vacation Responder feature will start working immediately. If you selected a future date in the First Day box, the Gmail auto reply feature will begin at midnight (your local time) on the date you saved in the First Day box.

If you entered a date into the Last Day box, the auto response feature will stop working at 11:59 p.m. on the date you entered.

Step 4: Manually Ending the Vacation Responder Feature

If you chose not to enter a date in the Last Day box, or if you need to end the use of the Vacation Responder feature earlier than the date in the Last Day box, Gmail makes this an easy process.

As soon as you activate Vacation Responder by clicking the Save Changes button, you’ll see a banner across the top of your Gmail window that tells you the automatic response feature is active. As part of the banner, you’ll see an End Now text link. Click this, and Gmail will turn off your Vacation Responder feature immediately, regardless of whether you entered a date in the Last Day box.

You also can turn off Vacation Responder by opening the Settings window and scrolling down to the Vacation Responder section (as we described earlier). Click on the Vacation Responder Off radio button to turn off the feature. Then click on Save Changes.

One Other Auto Reply Option: Use Canned Responses

You have the option of creating a canned response that will be an automatic reply for certain recipients, regardless of whether you have Vacation Responder activated.

Some people who have more than one email address may want to send an auto reply using canned responses. For example, if you have a special email address clients can use to request more information about your business, you can send them the information automatically through this canned response feature.

First, create a canned response, which is a template email that always uses a certain subject line and message. From the Settings window in Gmail, click on Advanced. Then click on the radio button to turn on Templates.

Go back to the main Gmail window and click Compose. Create the message that you want to use as a canned response template. Then click the three vertical dots in the lower right corner of the window. Click Templates, followed by Save Draft as Template. Then name the template.

Now go back to the Settings window and click on the Filters and Blocked Addresses tab. Click on Create a New Filter at the bottom of the window. Enter the criteria you want to use for the filter and click Create Filter.

In the next window, activate the Send Template checkbox. Then click the Choose Template drop-down menu to pick the template you want to use any time you receive a message that meets your filter criteria. Add any other checkbox filters before creating Create Filter.

10 Tricks for Your Auto Reply

Here are 10 tips and tricks to help you make the most of the Gmail auto reply feature.

1. Use It All of the Time

You don’t have to actually be on vacation or out of the office to use the Vacation Responder feature.

If you loathe answering your emails, you may choose to only look at them a few times a week. If so, you can let those who send you messages know that you will respond to them on certain days. This ensures people won’t be expecting a response until later.

2. Notify People When You Will Return

Within the message section of the automatic reply, you may want to list a time and date when you will return. If you’re only going to be out of the office until 2 p.m., for example, you can list this in the Message box. Or if you are on vacation until next Wednesday, you can list this information, if desired.

Having a date for expecting a response is helpful and courteous for the people awaiting your response.

3. Add an Emergency Contact

Within the message of the automatic reply, consider adding an email address or phone number that the person sending you the email can use if he or she needs a response now. If you are on vacation, you can add the contact information for a co-worker, for example. (Just be certain that you have told the co-worker who may be receiving your messages.)

4. Understanding When Auto Reply May Not Send a Message

If someone sends you a message while you have Vacation Responder turned on, they will receive your automatic reply. However, if that same person sends another message within four days, the auto response will not reply again. It only sends a reply to the same person once every four days (if your Vacation Responder remains on and remains unedited during the entire four-day period).

5. Editing the Gmail Auto Reply

If you choose to edit the message or subject of your automatic response while the Vacation Responder feature remains on, the four-day period we just discussed will reset. This means that the person who sends you a message every day will see the new reply without having to wait four days from the last time he or she received a reply.

6. Spam Messages Do Not Receive an Auto Reply

If the filters you are using in Gmail are sorting certain messages into your Spam folder, those messages will not receive an automatic response when you have Vacation Responder turned on and active.

Messages that originate from a mailing list address also will not receive an auto response.

7. Setting Up Vacation Responder in the Gmail App

The steps for activating Vacation Responder from the Gmail app are similar to those we discussed earlier when using Gmail in a browser. You will find Vacation Responder on the Settings screen in the app, but to find Settings, you will have to tap the three vertical lines in the upper left corner of the Gmail app screen.

To activate Vacation Responder in the app, move the slider button to the right to turn it on and move it to the left to deactivate it.

8. Format the Text in the Message

You can format the text in the Message text box of your Vacation Responder feature just like you can for any email message. You can pick a certain type of font, set up bulleted lists, add an image, add colors, add attachments, or add links.

9. Messages Are Saved

After you create a Vacation Responder message the first time, the text you entered into the Subject and Message boxes will be pre-entered for you the next time you use this feature, even if it’s several weeks later. This means you can keep the same message you had the last time you used Vacation Responder, or you can edit the text and create a new message for your new situation.

10. Ask to Have the Message Sent Again

If you are someone who receives hundreds of messages in a typical week, you may not want to go through them all when you return to the office after your vacation. You can use the Vacation Responder message to notify anyone who sends you a message during the time that you are gone that you will not read any messages you received while on vacation.

List the date that you will return in the Message box and suggest that the person resend his or her message on or after that date.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira