Learning from failure

As a foreigner working in Canada, I have to deal with lots of paperwork. The three documents I stress out about the most (and therefore remember to renew) are my work permit, my passport, and my temporary resident visa. Without a valid work permit, I’d be an illegal alien. Without my passport, I can’t travel. Without my visa, I can’t come back into the country.

Ah, paperwork.

Because there are big consequences if I don’t get things like that sorted out (possibly getting kicked out of the country? having to answer yes to awkward questions on future visa applications? getting stuck on the wrong side of the immigration counter?), I haven’t needed long-term reminders.

Renewing my social insurance number, which I really only dig up during tax time and when opening new accounts? That apparently gets me every time. This is the second time I’ve pulled out my SIN card and realized it had expired.

So here’s a checklist for other folks on work permits, if you ever need to renew your passport:

  1. Renew your work permit, which was probably issued with the same validity as your old passport.
  2. Renew your social insurance number record, which was probably issued with the same validity as your work permit. The process is very fast, but you’ll need your passport and your work permit.
  3. Renew your temporary resident visa. This involves sending your passport in the mail, and you should do it after #2 to avoid the wait.

Something like this happens when my task management system fails. I’m getting better at not letting things fall through the cracks, so little failures like this are instructive. I much prefer testing my task management now rather than later, when it might Really Matter.

So, where had it failed?

  1. When I received my previous SIN card, I didn’t make a long-term reminder. I briefly mentioned it on my blog before I renewed my work permit, but (a) I didn’t create a WAITING-FOR task, and (b) I didn’t stop and think about it when I received the card. Either action would’ve caught this, although a good WAITING-FOR system is better. I didn’t have an electronic task in Toodledo, which I’ve gone back to using for my day-to-day tasks. (Emacs stores my long-term goals, and I fill Toodledo tasks in based on that.) I didn’t store anything in my then-not-yet-set-up tickler file. This lack of task recognition was the key point of failure. Action: Record WAITING tasks and add them to my weekly review.
  2. I didn’t have one place to put my SIN card. I checked three places and two folders (Employment, Identification) for my card. I found a SIN card in the first place I checked (one of my drawers), but because it had expired and I remembered being in this situation before, I thought I must have another SIN card. Also, the drawer was the wrong place to put it – I should’ve moved it to the Identification folder when I set up my filing system. ACTION: Tidy up this weekend and file things that are out of place. 
  3. I didn’t have a good action log. Back when I published my full task list, I could easily find out when I last renewed my SIN. I thought I’d renewed it later than that, but apparently I didn’t. So my confusion resulted in maybe five minutes of looking around for a possibly newer SIN card, just in case I happened to have two. Although I suspected that I turned in my expired SIN card during the renewal, it was good to check anyway. ACTION: Get back to posting my task list. I do something like that in my weekly review, but it might not be granular enough.

Slowly figuring things out!

  • I didn’t realize that Social Insurance Numbers have an expiry. I’ve had the same number since my teenage years, and, in fact, lost the card some 30 years ago. I do remember the number — not to mention that I would get reminded every year on my tax return! I now see 900-series (temporary) SIN cards do have an expiry date.

    I guess that the 900-series would end a debate about non-meaningful reference numbers and human-readable numbers. An employer would have to be immediately on guard for hiring someone with a 900-series SIN, because the organization would be responsible for checking.

    I notice that in the United States, the general consensus seems to be that Social Security Numbers don’t expire, so there’s only one identifier for life.

    If/when you get permanent resident status in Canada, there will be a small bureaucracy because you will have a permanent SIN issued to you. That will make you special, in comparison to most Canadian citizens, because you’ll have two SINs.