Using executive orders to get things done is a great way to actually get things done. When things are controversial, they go off to Congress and nothing happens. But in the executive branch, just the stroke of a pen can actually cause change. It's a great way to actually be a leader in Washington.
Executive orders should be made first and foremost to improve the nation and to resolve emergency issues that have to do with the nation's security or other crises. Presidents who pass through an enormous amount of controversial executive orders in quick succession are doing so primarily to boost their own political interests rather than for the good of the nation.
No, presidents should not use executive orders to advance controversial items until they have tried to do it through other channels. The legislative branch was set up to debate controversial items and come to a conclusion. At it's best Congress does this well and should always be given the chance. If Congress fails to perform their duties and simply sticks to partisan politics, then it might be appropriate to use executive orders to take action.
There are certain political issues that can affect a large number of people in a bad way. The President of the United States should not be permitted to use executive orders to push such items through that should be debated. The purpose of Congress is to discuss these issues and make an intelligent, informed decision about the issue. The President should not be allowed to bypass Congress on these issues.