How to automatically send an 'I'm busy!' text from your Android phone

You can use the Tasker and Trigger Android apps to let people know why you're not answering your texts.

Android Notifications
cheskapoon, modified by IDG Comm

If co-workers (or friends) have come to expect an instant response when they send you a text, it can be useful to let them know when you're in a meeting and unavailable for a while.

With just little bit of setup, you can create the SMS-equivalent of an email "out of office" message. Even better -- you can build a text autorespond that automatically turns itself on whenever you've got a meeting on your calendar and switches off again when the event is done.

Bonus: You can also have it mute and unmute your phone, which is easy enough to do manually with a single tap when you walk into a meeting but also rather easy to forget.

Given the power and flexibility of the Android platform, I'm guessing there are several ways to create an SMS autorespond smart enough to read your calendar. (Alas, I don't know any way to do this on iOS; let me know in the comments if there is.) I've settled on using two paid but highly affordable apps: Tasker ($2.99), which is powerful but somewhat complex to use, and Trigger ($2.99), which "triggers" actions depending on your surroundings; the Pro upgrade is needed to read calendar items.

First, though, a warning: Different Android messaging apps may respond differently to MMS messages (such as texts with photos), at least on Samsung devices (I used a Galaxy Note 5). My autoresponder worked fine with Google's Messenger app and Samsung's SMS app; but Verizon's Message+ veered off the rails. More on this in the set-up info below.

And now, your step-by-step guide to programming a smart SMS autorespond.

1) Install Tasker, then go into Tasker's settings and enable External Access. Now install Trigger. Note: Order is important here. Make sure to install Tasker first, before Trigger.

2) Open Tasker. Click on the Tasks tab on the top nav bar and then the + icon in the middle of the bottom nav bar to create a new task. You'll be asked for its name. I called my task Meeting Autorespond Msg, but you can call it whatever you like. After entering the name, click the check icon.

You'll next be advised to click the + icon again to add an action. Go ahead and do so. You'll want the action to be sending a text message. Select that by navigating to Phone / Send SMS (not Send Data SMS).

Next, you'll need to enter something in the Number (phone number) field so Tasker knows where to send your texts. You want the number to be whoever just sent you a text. To enter that Tasker variable, click the variable icon (it looks like a diagonal tag next to the search icon) and choose "Text From." When you do, %SMSRF will be entered in the Number field.

tasker autoresponse 1 2

Using Tasker, you can choose an action; in this case, the one you want is listed under Phone (left). Tasker lets you enter a variable so that the number you send will be whoever just sent you a text (right).

For the Message field, type whatever you want your text to say, such as I'm in a meeting now and will get back to you when I can. When you're finished entering your message, tap twice where it says Action Edit Send SMS at the left of the top nav bar -- first to save your task and go to this task's main screen, and second to go back to the Tasker home screen.

Note: If you want to also silence your phone, you'll need to create two separate, additional tasks. Once again, click on the Tasks tab on the top nav bar and then the + icon in the middle of the bottom nav bar to create a new task. As before, name it whatever you like. I called the first one "Meeting START Silence" so I'd remember what it does. Again, click the + icon to add an action, and use the Audio option to set the ringer volume, media volume, notification volume and system volume all to 0. For example: Go to Audio / Ringer Volume and move the Level slider to 0.

(Tasker also has a Silent Mode action, which would be easier, since it's one single action to mute the phone -- but unfortunately not all Android devices support it. Feel free to try it and see if yours does. )

Add a second task to unmute the phone (I named this one "Meeting END Silence"). Do this by returning to each of the phone audio settings you muted in the prior task and putting the volume levels back to where you want them. (If Silent Mode in Tasker worked for you in the previous step, simply turn it off with this task.)

3) Next up is creating a new Tasker profile to tell your phone what should kick off your Meeting Autorespond Msg action.

While you actually want the trigger to be "Whenever I get a text message during a meeting," your initial triggering context in Tasker is simply going to be "My phone has received an SMS message" -- even though you don't want an automated response sent every time you get a text message. Don't worry -- we'll refine this soon using the Trigger app, which will read your calendar events and turn your autorespond on and off accordingly.

First thing you have to do is set up your profile.

Tap on the Profiles tab in the top nav and create a new profile. You'll be asked to pick your first context. From the menu of categories, choose Event / Phone / Received Text (not Received Data SMS). There will be a dropdown under Type. You can choose an SMS text message, an MMS message (typically with a photo) or Any. In most cases, Any should work fine; but there are some situations where you'll want to exclude MMS and select SMS (see sidebar).

Leave the other fields for Sender and Content blank, unless you only want this to apply to certain people or texts with certain words. Save by tapping on Event Edit in the top nav bar.

You'll then be asked to enter a task. Select the task Meeting Autorespond Msg (or whatever you called your task in step 2). Your profile will be created and switched on. Switch it off, unless you want the auto responses to go out now.

Next, do a long press on "Received Text Any *.*" (the default name of your profile) on the Tasker home screen, tap the A on the top nav bar, and rename your profile to "Mtng Receive Text."

4) This next part may seem a little counterintuitive, but it's because Trigger can't turn Tasker profiles on and off; it only interacts with tasks. Ideally, you'd want to use Trigger to switch the profile created above on and off, but you can't. The solution is to create two more tasks: Mtng Profile ON and Mtng Profile OFF.

For the Mtng Profile ON task, add an Action by navigating to Tasker / Profile Status. Click the search icon above the Name field and select Mtng Receive Text (or whatever you called your profile in step 3) and change the Set option to On. Tap Action Edit in the top nav twice to back out.

If you also created silencing tasks, add your Meeting START Silence task to your profile by adding a second action: Go to Task / Perform Task then tap the search icon and choose Meeting START Silence. Tap Action Edit on the top nav bar twice to back out.

Do the same thing for Mtng Profile OFF, but set the profile option to Off. If you want your phone to be unmuted after your meeting, don't forget to add a second action for Task / Perform Task and then select Meeting END Silence after tapping the search icon.

5) Now we're done with Tasker and it's time to open Trigger -- which, you'll likely be happy to learn, is usually more intuitive than Tasker.

Click on the + (inside a green circle) at the bottom right on your Trigger home screen and you'll be prompted to "Add one or more triggers." Click the plus there (this time inside a gray circle); when asked to Select Trigger, choose Calendar Event (you may need to scroll down).

You'll be given several options. The default is when any event on any of your calendars begins. I found this to be too broad, especially since my husband and I share calendars and my phone was sending out autoresponses every time one of his events began. Even without shared calendars, though, I don't necessarily want my phone sending out "I'm busy now" texts for every event on my calendar.

My solution was to add mutephone to the title of every calendar entry where I want autorespond turned on and the phone to be silenced. I'll admit this is an imperfect solution, since a) you have to remember to do when entering calendar events and b) it's unlikely you can do this for items pulled in from a corporate calendar (so it may apply to only a small percentage of instances when you'd want to use it). But you've got the option -- and you can also tell the trigger to only involve items matching certain words (such as "meeting").

The next screen lets you add additional refinements, such as time and day of week (perhaps you only want this to happen during business hours), whether Wi-Fi is on, and so on. Click done and your triggers are set up.

Then click Next at the bottom right to add actions. Once you click the + icon at the top right, you'll get a list of categories. Scroll down and you should see Tasker as an option.

Click on it, check the box next to Tasker Task, tap Next (bottom right) and you'll get a dialog box to select an existing Tasker Task. Tap on the search icon and you'll see a window pop up with available tasks. Choose the Mtng Profile ON task (which you created in step 4) and then Add to Task. Before tapping Done at the bottom right, you'll have an option under Name to rename your Task.

Make sure to create a similar trigger for when your events end by selecting Mtng Profile OFF as the task.

You can also create other autoresponders, such as one that sends "I'm driving now and will respond later" whenever your phone connects to the Bluetooth system in your car (specific Bluetooth connections are another available Trigger option) and turns it off once the connection is off.

This may seem like a lengthy process as you're reading; but once you've gone through it once, it should only take you a couple of minutes to set up. Then, voila! You no longer have to worry about impatient superiors (or family members) wondering why you haven't answered them.

And if you set up the mute option too, you'll no longer be the one whose phone ringer goes off in a meeting just when your boss is making a crucial point.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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