Whether you’re leaving the office for the holidays, going on vacation, or taking a business trip, there are a number of things you can do to prepare your computer for your time away.

Cancelling appointments and letting people know you’ll be gone are just a few of the things you should do to make sure your responsibilities are covered and let people know you’re not available to meet. Here are some best practices to see to it that your work goes on smoothly, even when you’re gone.

Note: Some of the features described in this article require Microsoft Exchange Server and are not available to you unless your organization uses Microsoft Outlook with Exchange Server.

Decline upcoming meetings

Decline or cancel any meetings that are scheduled while you’re gone. To decline a meeting using Microsoft Outlook 2010, Office Outlook 2007, or Office Outlook 2003:

  1. Open the meeting occurrence and click Decline.
  2. If you’re the organizer of the meeting, either arrange for a co-worker to run it or send a cancellation.
    • To cancel the meeting in Outlook 2010, select the meeting occurrence and then, on the Calendar Tools Meeting tab of the Ribbon, in the Actions group, click Cancel Meeting.
    • To cancel the meeting in Outlook 2007, select the Meeting tab and then click the Cancel Meeting icon.
    • To cancel the meeting in Outlook 2003, open the meeting occurrence and, in the Actions menu, click Cancel Meeting.

Update your voice mail greeting

Record a voice message that lets people know you’re going to be out of the office for an extended amount of time. Provide the name of the person to contact for immediate assistance, and let people know when you plan to return.

Make sure your mailbox doesn’t exceed size limits

If you’re gone for a long time, you run the risk of your Outlook mailbox exceeding the size limit set by your IT department. A full Inbox will prevent you from sending or receiving email while you’re gone. Before you leave, use the Mailbox Cleanup tool in Outlook to check and manage the size of your mailbox. To use Mailbox Cleanup in Office Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2003, on the Tools menu, click Mailbox Cleanup. To use Mailbox Cleanup in Outlook 2010, click the File tab to open Backstage view. Then, on the Info tab, click Cleanup Tools. You can view the total size of your mailbox and individual folders, or find and archive items older than a certain date.

Block off time in your calendar

Don’t forget to mark your Outlook calendar to show co-workers that you’re gone. That way, they’ll see you’re not available and won’t schedule meetings with you. To block off the time, just create an appointment in Outlook that shows you’re out of the office:

  1. In Outlook 2010, with your Calendar open, on the Home tab, in the New group, click New Appointment. In Office Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003, on the File menu, point to New, and then click Appointment.
  2. In Start time, select the date you’re leaving. In End time, select the date you’re returning.
  3. If you’re leaving for just one day, select the All day event box.
  4. Under Show time as, select Out of Office.
  5. Click Save and Close.

Keep your password from expiring

Your IT department might have a limit on how long your password will be valid before you need to change it. If you’re going away for more than 14 days, change your network password to ensure it won’t expire while you’re gone. To change your password, press CTRL+ALT+DELETE and select Change Password.

Note: If you are unable to change your password using the Windows options after pressing CTRL + ALT + DELETE, check with your system administrator for the proper procedure in your organization.

Check in work files

If you go on vacation with a file checked out on SharePoint Server document libraries*, your team members can’t work on the most recent version of that file. Make sure to check in all of your files before leaving the office.

*Requires SharePoint Foundation.

Secure your laptop

Laptop computers are a common target of theft. If you’re not taking your laptop with you on vacation, take it home or lock it in your desk. If you do take your laptop with you, review the 9 ways to secure your laptop on the road.

Turn on Automatic Replies (Out of Office)

In Outlook 2010 you can use Automatic Replies (Out of Office) to notify people who send you email messages that you’re away. In Office Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003, this feature is known as the Out of Office Assistant. This Outlook feature enables you to set an automated reply to messages sent to you while you’re out. In the reply, let people know who to contact while you’re gone. You can also set up rules to file the messages you receive or to send special responses to specific people.

  • To use Automatic Replies (Out of Office) in Outlook 2010, on the File tab, in Backstage view, click the Info tab, and select Automatic Replies.
  • To use the Out of Office Assistant in Office Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2003, on the Tools tab, click Out of Office Assistant.

You can create an autoreply message to let people both inside and outside of your organization know important information—such as when you’ll be back and who to contact in the case of an emergency.