One of the things I enjoyed most about being at CEA was the need to track the macroeconomy on a monthly and daily frequency and to be able to explain it to other people working in the Executive Office of the President. In the academic life of an economist, there is very little demand for understanding the real-time economy, and topics of direct relevance for current events are reflected to only a minimal extent in academic publications.
One way to become better informed about the real-time economy is to make the national economic calendar page at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's website a part of your weekday morning web surfing. Another option is to sign up at the National Bureau of Economic Research for a daily e-mail with a more comprehensive list of data released that day, with links to each report. (I have added both links to the sidebar.) Looking at the NY Fed page, you will see that there is a regular timing to how major pieces of information are released.
For example, the Employment Situation release happens on the Friday after the first Thursday of each month, and it pertains to data collected during (roughly the second week of) the prior month. The highlight of the second week is the Advance Retail Sales report, which tells us about much of the consumption that occurred during the prior month. The third week was less interesting to me, but the highlights were typically the reports on inflation contained in the Producer and Consumer Price Index reports. The monthly cycle heats up again in the last week or so with the Advance Durables report, which tells us about investment in the prior month, and then finally the GDP report, which has advance, preliminary, and final releases in the first, second, and third months of the following quarter, respectively.
If you would like to keep current on the macroeconomy, those reports are the place to start. On the day of the release, read the report and then try to follow the press coverage, particularly the financial markets' reactions. I will also try to post more about what these reports as they become available.