Use Outlook to block vacation time

In a corporate environment, a lot of people send around e-mails to let folks know they’ll be out of the office.  You know, something like this:

Out of office email

This is very nice, civilized, and proper in all degrees. The problem is that people will forget it.  So you’ll have to remind them again, forwarding the e-mail to the same group of people. 

A better way is to use your Outlook calendar – and, let’s face it, you were going to block your OOO on your calendar anyway, am I right?  In addition to not scrolling down to the dark murky depths of an email inbox, your absence will become more clear as the date approaches.  If it makes sense, as it might for critical personnel, you can even set a reminder for a day or week or whatever you like prior to your absence.

When  you set up your OOO appointment to block your own calendar, first add the folks you want to notify as invitees.  The trick is to mark the calendar time as “free” before you send it to everyone.  After sending, you change the appointment on your own calendar to “out of office.”

In pictures, it looks like this:

1. Create an appointment. When you’ve locked in that warm sunny vacation and are ready to send ‘round that email, create a calendar appointment instead and invite everyone you would have emailed: 

OOO appointment

2. Mark the time as “Free.”  Use the appointment options to mark it as Free time for the recipients; you don’t want to block everyone else’s calendar, do you?  (If you check the “All day event,” this post from Microsoft says that the calendar time is marked free by default, FYI.)

Options|Mark time as: Free

3. Turn off responses and new time proposals.  A person with black-belt Outlook skills would never make each and every recipient have to “accept” their vacation request.  Nor would they trouble them to be able to propose a new time.  Uncheck both response options:

Response Options: uncheck both/all

4. Send the appointment out. Your recipients’ calendars will look something like this, most importantly, showing your vacation time as free:

Recipient's calendar, marked but free

5. Lastly, change the appointment on your own calendar to “Out of Office.” 

Blocked on personal calendar

Now your calendar is blocked, everyone else’s is free, and everyone knows about it. If you’ve set a reminder, then a week before (or whatever you set), folks will get a more active reminder (a popup) from Outlook.

If you later want to notify additional people, just change the appointment on your calendar back to show as “Free,” add new folks to notify — accepting Outlook’s offer to only send to new participants — then change it back  again to “Out of Office.” A little bit of extra work, still better than forwarding emails around.

I hope this is helpful, I’ve been doing it for about ten years now.  Don’t forget to set your out-of-office auto reply before you go!

Other links and references


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James on September 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Remember when you do this to include your name. I’ve gotten invited to other peoples appointments and get a warning that ‘I’ve got a dentist appointment’ only to figure out as I’m headed out the door that it’s not my dentist… 😉


    • James, You may have to experiment with this depending on your corporate Exchange/Outlook version or configuration. In my current company, calendar appointments like this always show up with the sender’s name — exactly as shown in the screenshots — so putting your name in the subject ends up repeating it. But I do remember in the past having to include my name as you say.


  2. Posted by Venkat Meruva on September 21, 2012 at 2:49 am

    I have been using this for quite sometime and it really works.


  3. Hi Keith, great post. I don’t use outlook but this is a great trick if I ever start. I hope all is well with you in MD. Take good care, Wanda


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