Going on Vacation? Learn How to Write an Effective Out-of-Office Message

For many people, increasing vaccination rates mean that long-delayed vacations are now possible, and in-person conferences are slowly starting up again too. But before you head out for the beach or the convention center, you’ll want to write an out-of-office email auto-reply message to send to everyone who tries to get in touch while you’re away. A bit of thought upfront could reduce stress for your correspondents—and ensure that they don’t hunt you down for that burning question.

Before we look at what information should be in an effective out-of-office message, a quick tip. Don’t create a custom rule in Mail or another email app that automatically replies to every message. It is too easy to end up sending replies to every message from a mailing list or to an address that will itself reply back, causing a mail loop where each message generates another reply, ad infinitum. Plus, the Mac has to stay turned on and active while you’re gone or else it will do nothing while you’re gone and then reply to everything when you return to work and turn it on! Instead, set up such auto-responders in the server settings for your email provider, which are better about avoiding mail loops. Here are instructions for Gmail, iCloud, Outlook.com, Spectrum, Xfinity/Comcast, and Yahoo. If you use a different email provider or an email account provided by your employer or school, check with support for additional details.

The key to writing an out-of-office message that satisfies your correspondents is to put yourself in their shoes. What information are they likely to want from you? How will they react when they learn you’re away? Do the answers to these questions vary with different audiences?

There’s no single perfect out-of-office message, but while crafting yours, we strongly recommend including—or at least considering—all the following information.

  • Reason for the trip: Significant detail isn’t necessary, but there’s a big difference between being on vacation and at a conference. You may be too busy to read and reply to email quickly at the conference, but you’re probably not entirely unavailable, as you would be while canoeing in the Canadian wilderness. Being candid helps set expectations.
  • Location: Sharing your rough location may be helpful if you’re semi-available but in a radically different time zone. It can also sometimes lead to happy coincidences when a contact realizes you’re in their city. But if you’re trying to unplug and get away, there’s no need to get specific.
  • Availability: Some of the time, the answer is easy—you’re unavailable. But if you’re semi-available or available in case of emergency, try to set expectations appropriately for how much you want to handle versus sending to colleagues.
  • Dates: Always include the date range you’ll be gone. Many things can wait, and if your correspondent sees you’ll be back on the 17th, they may just shrug and make a reminder to respond to you after that. Others will realize that they need to scramble on different plans right away.
  • Alternative contacts: Who’s picking up the slack while you’re gone, or who can help in case of emergency? Put some thought into the different sets of people who send you email and write simple IF/THEN sentences directing them to the right person. “If you need help with print production, contact John Gutenberg at ppress@example.org.” Needless to say, always ask those people if they can field questions about your responsibilities first, in case they’re overscheduled or planning to be away too. If you find yourself listing lots of people, see if you can instead designate a single primary contact.
  • Provide contact info: Unless you’re in a large organization with a corporate directory and don’t communicate with outsiders much, you’ll want to provide at least an email address, perhaps along with a phone number, for each of the contacts you list.
  • FAQs: If many of your email questions can be answered with a pointer to a Web page, consider using such links instead of alternative contacts. Correspondents might be happier if a page provided the necessary answer rather than having to wait for a reply from another person.

Here are a few more general tips:

  • Keep the message short and sweet.
  • Stay positive—it’s a good opportunity to praise an assistant or colleague—and be careful with humor since you never quite know how others will take it.
  • Don’t promise to reply within a particular time frame after you get back. Even if that’s your plan, airline flights can get canceled, you might return with a bad case of the flu, or something else might conspire to delay your reply.
  • Edit carefully to make sure email addresses and phone numbers are correct and to eliminate typos. You don’t know who might send you email while you’re gone, and if it were the head of your company, a key supplier, or a potential investor, such mistakes wouldn’t do your career any favors.
  • If your email service doesn’t let you set an automatic end date, remember to turn off your out-of-office message as soon as you get back!

(Featured image by Dziana Hasanbekava from Pexels)

Don’t Cook Your Digital Devices in the Summer Heat

As climate change continues to wreak havoc on our weather, many areas are seeing record temperatures this summer—Seattle just recorded its hottest days ever. You may be able to trade your business suit for shorts or skirts to stay more comfortable, but your electronic gear can’t do the same. Keeping your tech cool is about more than comfort—as temperatures rise, performance can suffer, charging may get slower or stop, various components might be disabled, and devices can become unreliable.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

You might be surprised by how low the recommended operating temperatures for Apple devices are—whether you’re talking about an iPhone 12 or an M1-based MacBook Pro, the company recommends keeping them under 95° F (35° C).

Such temperatures happen regularly throughout the summer. Even in cooler climes, the temperature in a parked car in the sunshine can easily hit 130º F (54º C) in an hour and rise higher as time passes. And no, opening the windows a few inches won’t make much difference. You know you shouldn’t leave a kid or dog in a parked car for that reason, and now you can see that leaving your iPhone in the car during an afternoon at the beach might be problematic as well. Apple says its products shouldn’t even be stored—turned off—at temperatures over 113º F (45º C).

It’s not just cars you have to think about. Temperatures in homes and offices without air conditioning can also rise higher than electronics would prefer, and that’s especially true for computers that stay on most of the time and aren’t located in well-ventilated areas.

What’s the Danger?

First off, remember that all electronic devices produce their own heat on top of the ambient heat in the environment, so the temperature inside a device can be much, much hotter than outside. The CPU in an iMac can hit 212º F (100º C) under heavy loads.

Temperatures that exceed component design specs can have the following detrimental effects:

  • Chips of all types can behave unpredictably as increased thermal noise (electrons vibrating more) causes a higher bit error rate. Because electrical resistance increases with heat, timing errors can also occur.
  • Lithium-ion batteries discharge well in high temperatures, but the increased rate of chemical reactions within the battery will result in a shorter overall lifespan.
  • As devices heat and cool, the uneven thermal expansion of different materials can cause microscopic cracks that can lead to a variety of failures over time.

Some heat-related problems are temporary, so when the device or component cools down, it will resume working correctly. But others are irreversible and worth avoiding.

When a Mac gets too hot, it will spin up its fans in an attempt to keep its internal components cool. (The M1-based MacBook Air doesn’t have a fan, so it won’t be able to provide the same level of advance warning.) If your Mac’s fans ever run at full tilt for more than a few minutes, first quit apps you aren’t using, particularly those that might be CPU-intensive, thus creating a lot of heat. If that doesn’t make a difference, restart it to ensure the problem isn’t some rogue process. If the fans come back on at full speed quickly, shut it down and let it cool off for a bit. In the worst case, an overheated Mac may start acting unpredictably or crash.

iOS devices don’t have fans, so they employ other coping mechanisms. If your iPhone or iPad gets too hot, the device will alert you.

Apple says you might notice some of the following behaviors with an overheating iPhone or iPad:

  • Charging, including wireless charging, slows or stops.
  • The display dims or goes black.
  • Cellular radios enter a low-power state. The signal might weaken during this time.
  • The camera flash is temporarily disabled.
  • Performance slows with graphics-intensive apps or features.

If you’re using Maps on an overheating iPhone for GPS navigation in the car, it may show a “Temperature: iPhone needs to cool down.” screen instead of the map. You’ll still get audible turn-by-turn directions, and the screen will wake up to guide you through turns,

How to Keep Your Tech Cool

For the most part, keeping Apple devices cool just requires common sense:

  • Avoid using devices when the temperature is over 95º F (35º C). If that’s impossible, keep usage to a minimum.
  • Don’t leave devices in cars parked in the sun for long periods of time. If it happens accidentally, let the device cool before using it.
  • Provide good ventilation so air can cool the device. Don’t block ventilation ports in the back of desktop Macs, and don’t use Mac laptops in bed, propped on a pillow, or under the covers. It can be worth blowing dust out of ventilation ports with compressed air every so often.
  • Never put anything on the keyboard of an open Mac laptop.
  • Avoid stacking things on top of a Mac mini.
  • Monitor the temperature of server closets. If they get too hot, keep the door open, add a fan, or run the air conditioning.

Luckily, the temperatures that cause problems for Apple hardware aren’t terribly comfortable for people either, so if you’re way too hot, that’s a good sign your gear is as well.

(Featured image by Sergo Karakozov from Pexels)

Reduce Your Email Load with Three Features in Apple’s Mail: Mute, Block, and Unsubscribe

Complaining about getting too much email is like complaining about bad traffic—we brought it upon ourselves, and while it’s impossible to escape entirely, it’s worth knowing how to reduce it. Apple is fully cognizant of the issue, too, and has built features into the last couple versions of Mail—on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad—to help out. Here are three that you might find useful in different situations: mute, block, and unsubscribe.


It’s a huge email conversation about the annual holiday party at work, but you can’t go, and more people keep weighing in. However, since it’s just a ton of addresses on the Cc line, there’s no way to remove yourself, even though you don’t need to be notified of all the back-and-forth.

To help you quiet a too-chatty conversation, Apple added the Mute feature to Mail. On the Mac, select the conversation and choose Message > Mute or click the Mute button in the toolbar. On an iPhone or iPad, touch and hold the message until you get a popover, then tap Mute. You can also swipe left on the message, tap More, and tap Mute.

Messages will continue to flow in, but if you normally get notifications of Mail messages, you won’t get notifications for the muted conversation. In Mail, a little bell icon with a slash through it reminds you that the conversation is muted. To unmute a conversation, repeat these steps, but pick Unmute instead.

Do you never want to see those muted messages at all? You can discard them automatically. On the Mac, in Mail > Preferences > General, select “Archive or delete muted messages.” In iOS and iPadOS, go to Settings > Mail > Muted Thread Action, where you can choose between Mark as Read and Archive or Delete.

The “archive or delete” wording may seem confusing, but Apple lets you choose whether “discarding” a message archives it (removes it from your Inbox) or deletes it (moves it to the Trash mailbox). On the Mac, look for that setting in Mail > Preferences > Viewing > Move Discarded Messages Into. In iOS and iPadOS, it’s a per-account option in Settings > Mail > Accounts > accountName > Account > Advanced, under Move Discarded Messages Into.


Muting is about conversations, not people. But what if you never want to see email from a particular person ever again? Perhaps it’s an angry ex-housemate, your embezzling ex-business partner, or someone who just won’t stop forwarding politically offensive memes. For such people, Apple provides blocking.

On the Mac, open a message from the offending person, hover the pointer over their name, click the down-pointing arrow, and choose Block Contact. In iOS and iPadOS, tap the person’s name so it turns into a blue link, tap it again to reveal their contact card, tap Block this Contact, and confirm your decision. Should you change your mind, repeat the steps and choose Unblock.

All that changes immediately is that Mail puts a banner at the top of the message that says “This message is from a blocked sender.” However, Mail also provides a button or link to preferences that offer more options. On the Mac, they’re in Mail > Preferences > Junk Mail > Blocked. In iOS and iPadOS, you’ll find them in Settings > Mail > Blocked Sender Options. You can choose between leaving blocked mail in your Inbox or moving it to the trash.

Note that we used spam senders as examples here, but for actual spam, you should instead use the Move to Junk command to mark it as spam and train Mail’s junk mail filter. Blocking is useful only for actual people, and it works only on specific email addresses, so if someone can send from another address, Mail won’t know to block that address until you block it too.


It’s all too easy to end up on a bazillion mailing lists these days. That may not be a problem if you find the messages useful and infrequent enough so as not to be annoying. But if you order something online and immediately start receiving two email blasts per week advertising new products, you don’t have to sit there and suffer.

What you shouldn’t do, however, is use the Move to Junk command to mark those messages as spam. If you have a legitimate business relationship with the organization, they’re not doing anything illegal by sending you email, and marking their messages as spam might mistrain Mail’s spam filter to catch related mail you do want. It will also hurt their deliverability rate unnecessarily, and while that’s not your problem, there is a better way.

Whenever Mail detects that a message is from a mailing list, it displays a banner saying so, along with an Unsubscribe link. Click or tap it, confirm your decision, and Mail sends an unsubscribe message from you to the mailing list server.

Alas, between mailing lists not providing the necessary details and Mail not being able to understand everything, this feature is a little weak. When it works, it’s great, but just because an Unsubscribe banner doesn’t appear doesn’t mean you can’t unsubscribe.

Whenever that happens, scroll to the bottom of the message and look for an Unsubscribe link. Click it to visit a website where you can sign off. Alas, as shown below, commercial mail from Apple itself seems to be exempt from Mail’s Unsubscribe banner, and the company has one of the less obvious Unsubscribe links out there.

As helpful as muting and blocking can be, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck from unsubscribing from mailing lists. Remember, you can always find those companies on the Web should you wish to interact with them again.

(Featured image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)