Simple Out of Office Messages in Apple Mail

The most important part of this post is the VERY LAST STEP. YOU MUST READ through to the end, otherwise, you’ll end up doing it wrong!

Creating an Out of Office reply message when your mail server does not support this feature. The Kerio Mail Server supports this function in the Web interface, so don’t follow these instructions if your mail is hosted by Mid-Atlantic Computer Solutions on a Kerio Mail Server.

Open Mail’s Preferences…


and click on Rules. You find the preferences in the Mail menu just to the right of the Apple menu.

Click Add Rule


And copy the above settings.

Reply text


Enter the reply message in the Reply Message text dialog.

Don’t forget to enable this rule before you leave…

and disable it when you get back. If you subscribe to any automatic mailing lists or group discussion lists, it is a good idea to unsubscribe from these lists while you are away, as every message that comes into your inbox gets one of these replies.



After you have created your rule, Mail will ask you if you want to apply the rule to existing messages. DO NOT ALLOW THIS, otherwise you’ll send a response to every person who has a message still sitting in your inbox! (thanks for the tip on this one, MC!)


42 Responses

  1. Thanks for this, very helpful!

  2. Many thanks to you.

  3. Thank you! I just wish I had found this information before sending my client 50 emails with my out of office reply. They really should make that “apply” questions clearer.

  4. I’ve just done the same thing Michelle – sometimes Apple has no clue!

  5. Damn, I didn’t read the end if this post and have managed to spam everyone inside my inbox with an OOO message šŸ˜¦ epic fail! Thx for tip though šŸ˜¦ was too eager to go on holiday

  6. Thanks a lot!

  7. OMG, i didn’t read the end too!!!!!!

  8. Ha, I did the same about a year ago and ended up spamming everyone on my inbox, sometimes up to 15 times! Now I am ready to go on holiday again, and finally saw this. Thanks! HUGE tip.

  9. Any idea how to reverse it once you’ve messed that up? So you don’t keep messaging people?

    • Hi Ashley-

      Sorry, there is no way to undo sending a bunch of messages, but if it happens again, immediately either unplug/turn off your internet connection, quit Mail, or shut off your computer (unplugging it will not cause serious harm so long as you remember to save your ongoing work early and often) – just remember, the faster you do this, the fewer messages will get sent. This will stop unsent messages from leaving your computer. Once you have your internet connection disconnected, then you can turn on your computer and remove the items in the Outbox and disable the rule. After you’ve done that, you can re-enable your internet connection.

      Depending on your mail service provider, you might check to see if there is an out of office option available via the web mail or on the server’s back end. On the mail systems we use most often, the web mail client has an option for an Out of Office option that only messages new senders once – so if someone sends you 10 messages while you are away, they only get one out of office message.

      The key thing to remember is to really pay attention to the dialog box that says “apply to all messages in your inbox” and tell it NO! – this rule should only be run on new messages.

      Will O’Neal

  10. For the love of god as a public service please take this post down. It is one of the first things that shows up when you google Out of Office message and nobody reads your warning at the end. I just spent an hour helping my sister out of the hole she buried herself in because of this post. To be completely clear, you’re not a bad person but people in general apparently stop reading once they find what they want.

    • I fixed it. Thanks for the suggestion.

      • Dude, thank you so much. That was awesome of you to respond and update so quickly! I hope I didn’t come off as a jackass. It’s just that people (myself included, and especially my sister) are kinda dumb and a little disclaimer AT THE TOP is very helpful šŸ˜‰

  11. Have you thought about how to modify the rule so that the same person isn’t sent this message in reply to every note they send to you while you’re gone. Ideally, you would track to whom you’ve already sent the out-of-office note so that you don’t repeat the note to anyone.

    • Apple Mail, unfortunately doesn’t have this feature. It would require the use of a database to keep track of the previous recipients. Some mail servers, though, do have this feature, when you set up the out of office reply on the mail server rather than the mail client.

  12. Excellent no fluff tutorial, thanks for this.

  13. Does my MacBook need to be switched on all the time and connected to the internet for this to work? Or will it only send the out of office messages each time I log-on?

  14. I have multiple accounts on my iMail. Can I activate this for only one of the many accounts?

  15. Just did the set up and did NOT make the last entry. Ended up spamming everyone in my huge team -I am sure they all wasted lots of time wasting all the spam mail from me.
    What a crazy thing from Apple developers to get rules to apply to existing emails -or not put up a clear enough warning just as you did in your article. Everyone is going to remember me for a long time for this šŸ˜¦

    Till now I only had pet peeves against Apple OS that I ws forced to switch to after 8 comfortable years with Windows OS. Now, I guess I have joined hte list of Apple OS haters.

    • Sorry it happened, yet again. Give the OS a chance, it will really grow on you. If you have any other questions, ask away.

      • Just my luck that I got Googling in earnest and found your post after I had already been named the spammer of hte year šŸ˜¦
        The first couple of options that came up as part of my initial search (this topic is actually not included in the ‘help’ section of mail) did not mention the last part.
        Anyways, this is something that everyone uses so much, why wouldn’t it be part of the options available under something like ‘Mailbox’ is something I still don’t understand.
        Sorry, folks -I know you are dedicated to the tech work you do at Apple (part of my salary comes from Apple too, which is why I am forced to use Apple landscape for work. We have 9 Apple devices at home between 2 people but only 3 are work related -so non-work wise you are great) but you really need to hire some good User experience folks or business analysts with more common sense than tech sense.

  16. good god. I sent 5 thousand emails to everyone in my company and I didn’t even use this tutorial. It’s Apple’s fault for designing such an unintuitive user interface. UNINTUITIVE to the core. I can’t believe this. Not even a warning? Come on apple. My respect for Apple has gone down quite a bit after this little blunder. Now I get to spend my entire vacation worrying about how much people are going to bitch about me at the water cooler for flooding their inboxes.

    • Sorry you had this trouble, Chris. Once you made that rule, and told that rule to run on every message in your inbox, you lost it there. Apple Mail does ask if you want to apply the rule to all messages in your inbox, and your YES answer is what got you in trouble. The answer there is NEVER YES, but always NO, unless you really know what you are doing. I realize it’s unintuitive, hence this tutorial. The key thing for all readers to remember is if you have a mail server that allows you to check your email via a web interface (many commercial mail systems do offer a web-based login that will let you do set preferences and rules without doing this in Apple Mail), you can see if there are vacation settings there. The only way the Apple responder works is if your computer is on, and Apple Mail is checking for new messages.

    • And Apple wonders why their stock prices are going down šŸ™‚

      • Funny. I can assure you it has nothing to do with their perfectly functioning, but hard to understand, mail rules! :-). It has everything to do with Wall Street not realizing that Steve Jobs didn’t create the iPhone or iPad alone or overnight!

  17. Help!!!
    So i created an out of office notification for my email while I was out of town. I ended up disabling it while i was away because i realized i needed access to my email. The problem is i cant access all the emails i received when i had the notification up. I can read emails ive received after disabling it, but cant read the ones i recieved while the notification was up…. anybody please help???

    • Your vacation notification should not interrupt your ability to access your email – especially if you were using your gmail account. I’m not sure how you have your various clients set up (iphone, android, laptop?), but that rule will only act on messages in the box to send a reply, not to revoke access to the message from another device.

      That said, if you are going on “vacation” (I use quotes because nobody goes on vacation without access to email anymore) and you will have access to email, and you will be responding once or twice daily, why set a notice? If your usual response time will not vary dramatically because you are out of the office, you might be sending this notice even when your communications won’t be impacted very much. Now if you really are going to be away from email, set the response up, but first check to see if your mail server provides a vacation responder setting that you can use without having to set up a rule in Apple Mail. If you are a gmail user, gmail offers a vacation responder that works very well, and you don’t have to do anything in Apple Mail; in fact, Apple Mail and your computer don’t even need to be on/running in order for it to work.

  18. Thanx. This showed up easy in search. The instuctions could not be clearer and those that are spamming it’s their own fault for not reading what is so plain in sight. Will bookmark this.

  19. Thanks so so so much for this – BRILLIANT advice – I was completely baffled before!! šŸ™‚

  20. I follow all the steps but I never get that box that comes up that asks about applying the rules to existing messages … any idea why? I am worried to do it without that, in case I spam everyone

    • I would suggest you go back and follow the steps again; As long as you have done that, and if you still don’t get the question, you can unplug your ethernet cable and turn off your wifi to stop things from going out if you are not confident about the results after not getting the question.

  21. Mine is still sending emails to everyone even though I did make sure I clicked all the right choices. Any thoughts on why?

    • I think you must have done something wrong. To stop it from sending a ton of unwanted messages out you can disconnect your computer from the internet. Unplug your ethernet cable from the back/side of your computer, or turn off your wifi. You can then delete the messages out of the Outbox folder so they won’t be sent.

  22. So, does my computer have to be on and my mail open while I’m away in order for the auto reply to work?

    • Yes. Unless you can set up auto-reply in the webmail interface for your email must be open to act on your behalf.

  23. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch as I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that Thanks for lunch! cedgbdkebbad

  24. Hi, Thank you for these out of office tips. Just wondering how to set it up so that it doesn’t reply to junk email?

    • You actually have to make an adjustment to your junk mail rules. In Mail -> Preferences -> Junk Mail, at the bottom of that window is an option to “Filter junk mail before applying my rules.” Enable that option and you should be good to go. Filter junk mail before applying my rules

  25. great thank you for your help šŸ™‚

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